Cha-cha-changes

Expert answers 5 common questions about change management

This Houston business expert has tips on managing change — whatever it is you might be changing. Pexels

The times they are a changin' and with that comes managing everything from introducing new technology to hiring new senior-level leaders with innovation on the mind. Whether your company is introducing the former, the latter, or a combination of the two, there might be a few questions you have surrounding change management.

1. What is the definition of change management? Isn't it just about communications and training?
Change management is a process by which you engage the workforce in involvement in the change as well as identify where the resistance is, reduce it, and increase the ownership and buy in of the change process with support of the leadership. Communications and training are enablers of change.

2. What has been the biggest challenge companies face in implementing the management of change? How do successful companies overcome this issue?
Resistance to change always shows up whenever you ask people to do something they have not done before. Organizations that think ahead will deploy a short readiness for change survey and run a few focus groups to identify where potential resistance is. Quite often two issues usually rise to the top: "What is in it for me to go along with the change?" and "What will not change?"

Both of these issues require good communications before any change effort is begun. Several companies have set up hotlines to address rumors and also ran town hall meetings, email blasts, electronic bulletin boards, and newsletters with frequently asked questions, before any major change work in is undertaken.

Once the effort is underway it also makes sense to make random call to employees to gage how well the workforce is aware of the change and understanding its impacts.

Being proactive with your communications is key to ascertain the effectiveness of on-going communications, clarity of key messages, frequency of communications, and getting feedback if the right people are communicating at the right time to the right audience.

3. What do companies report to be the biggest failure in applying a change management process, what are the lessons learned from that experience?
Failure of Leaders, managers, and sponsors to go through training first in order for them to be role models for supporting the change. When they failed to do this, the workforce do not believe the leaders and management team are committed to the change. The lesson learned from this is to not only train leaders and managers first, but also have them kick-off training sessions and also teach some aspect of it.

4. What role does stewardship and governance play in a successful change process?
What we are really talking about is sponsorship for change. Sponsorship must exist at various levels of the organization. These are stewards who champion the change process even when progress runs into road blocks. And you must provide sponsors with tools to identify change issues and provide them with change intervention techniques to address whatever comes up; turning problems into opportunities, how to be an active listener, how to ask open-ended questions, etc.

Sponsors also need to report biweekly how they see the change is progressing as listening posts to the organization, and how to process the information from the workforce to ensure that everyone see's first hand that communications and feedback is a positive part of the effort.

5. How do organizations successfully measure change?
It's important to use some form of a balanced scorecard that uses data from survey's and focus groups. Metrics for calibrating, awareness, understanding, buy in, engagement and involvement, as well support are important stages of change that require tracking. These metrics need to be established early on and tracked monthly throughout the change journey. If you can't measure it, you probably cannot change it.

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Mark Hordes is principal at Houston-based Mark Hordes Management Consultants LLC, an organizational consulting advisory.

In a world of driver-less cars and artificial intelligence, companies have an increased need to focus on safety in the workplace. Getty Images

New technologies — driverless vehicles, delivery drones, and AI — are making an accelerated push into operational excellence across industries, and are generating a lot of attention. Hype notwithstanding, we need to also think also about safety and risk and how to prevent safety incidents before they occur so that safety operates in partnership with new technologies and innovation.

Today, safety as process that is wrapped into ones' organizational culture requiring companies to look beyond intended performance and innovation breakthroughs, to their own assumptions about safety. And how it works and does not work, despite best efforts, financial investments and operations programs that are intended to create a culture that is incident free in the workplace.

When firmly in place, an effective safety culture instills an environment where employees differentiate between events which, while detrimental to performance, have low probability of generating an incident, and those with seemingly minimal impact on performance, yet high probability of escalation into full-blown safety incidents, accidents and sometimes deaths.

Six safety principles

Creating safety in the workplace requires a new and different mindset which incorporates six sustainable safety behaviors:

  1. Leadership consistently practice positive regard and good intent to articulate, demonstrate and reinforce employee behaviors that exemplify a commitment to safety.
  2. Leadership clearly communicate safety objectives and provide employees information to enable and empower employees to make value-based decisions and set priorities consistent with their levels of accountability and roles in the organization.
  3. Leadership supports employees identifying real and perceived barriers to a safe environment in compliance with policies, regulations and risks.
  4. Leadership practice positive employee regard to encourage, and assume good intent to accept, constructive challenges to policies and practices that have little or no value.
  5. Leadership support and create an environment in which commitment to identify risks during the course of one's work activities and take action, when first seen, creates a mindset that will genuinely transform the organization.
  6. Leaders are visible and consistently viewed by employees as champions of safety every day.

Safety mindset threats

Many current safety efforts occur after the incident takes place. In other words, after an injury happens — someone falls off a lift, for example — actions are taken to prevent similar injuries in the future. This is known as reactive safety and is not an ideal solution. If we can determine the why of an accident, safety can become proactive.

An effective safety program trains everyone, and encourages safety precautions, as well as strives to understand and reduce risk, rather than waiting for an accident to occur.

With an effective safety program in place your focus is always on preventing injuries before they occur and targeting 80 to 90 percent of the risk. Through utilization of this kind of process worker-controlled program, precautions can prevent injuries, reinforces these behaviors, identifies and removes systems, conditions and obstacles that make it difficult or impossible to take the right precautions.

In addition, employees may be practicing vicious compliance, in contrast to authentic commitment to process safety, in which they follow management's policies, procedures and other mandates "to the letter", even in situations where other choices would make more sense.

The workforce may act unilaterally based on their own assumptions, for example:

  • "They talk a good game about process safety, but I know it's really about getting the work done. I'll operate to get the desired production rate, even if this pushes the equipment to its limit." Indeed, the oft-ignored employee assumption and resulting belief is that production trumps process safety.
  • Employees' reliance upon personal experience to evaluate risk of low-frequency events: "As an employee, my experience teaches me that I've worn my personal protective equipment 100 times and there has never been an incident. So, if I don't wear it this one time, especially since I am so busy, it seems to me that the associated risk of an incident is quite low. So, why does management constantly 'get on me' about wearing it? Aren't there more important issues facing us?"

Routine behavior often includes silence or compliance, but with little challenge of issues or conversation about what could or might happen. As a result, management may perceive that all is well when in fact employees have significant concerns and issues.

To avoid major safety incidents, both known and unknown, an organization can take process safety to the next level by:

  • Exploring and challenging deeply-held beliefs, values, and assumptions by examining the underlying antecedents of process safety behaviors and utilizing new technology systems that shut down operation when a safety situation is first detected before an incident occurs.
  • Achieving the desired operational discipline, including paperless documentation, setting expectations, defining critical cyber secure procedures, and linking executive bonuses to achieving safety goals.
  • Focus on practicing a leveraged safety program that delivers results in the most effective and efficient mean possible by frequently focusing on decreasing threats, risks and increasing attention and communications to prevention, detection and correction.

The ultimate effective safety process and program relies upon effective use of new technologies in the workplace self- and organizational awareness, and the constant, never-ending focus on safety everyday and minute that we spend in the workplace.

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Mark Hordes is principal at Houston-based Mark Hordes Management Consultants LLC, an organizational consulting advisory.