Change is a cycle in itself, and organizations go through various cycles throughout their lifetime. Whether it's automating processes, introducing specialized equipment, streamlining redundant tasks and people who perform them, or simply relocating a physical plant, changes are inevitable. 

A white paper on change management prepared by CEB, a best practice insight and technology company, attests to that view. The paper claims that the average organization has experienced 5 significant changes in the past 3 years, with 73% of organizations expecting more change initiatives in the next 3 years.

The paper identifies the following common enterprise changes:

  • 78% - Culture change
  • 69% - Restructuring
  • 61% - Market expansion
  • 52% - Leadership transition
  • 29% - Merger or acquisition

Among the 400 change initiatives the white paper researchers examined, only 34% were clear successes with 50% clear failures and 16% mixed results.

Creating a Change Management Process That Works

Manufacturing is vulnerable to constant changes because of the prevalence of advanced technologies – this, in particular, makes change management in the manufacturing industry imperative. There's no arguing that guides and tool kits on managing changes in processes and equipment operation are important. They provide straightforward instructions on what to do to make new processes and equipment work.

However, people are at the center of a meaningful change management effort.

Resistance is sure to be a first and immediate reaction to significant change. How do you get people on board to create a change management process that works?

Prepare Employees for the Change

This first stage of the change process is usually the most stressful step. It involves sending out a compelling message why the status quo cannot continue and that the change is for the good of everyone and the company.

Let your people know that things have to change in a way that everyone understands. Declining sales figures, worrying customer satisfaction surveys, threats to job stability, and other critical developments, for example, are disturbing indications that can relay your message for change successfully.

Involve Employees in Change Management Planning

Involving employees, especially those whose jobs will be affected, motivates them to get engaged and be proactive participants in the change initiative. Creating an open environment where they have a voice and some degree of power to initiate change is a positive approach that is participative, inclusive and a good source of diverse perspectives and expertise.

Monitor Implementation Progress by Constantly Communicating With Employees

Change management supervisors and employees need to frequently and consistently communicate with each other about change activities through multiple channels, including face-to-face meetings, written messages, emails, video and audio, training, and bulletin boards. More importantly, communication should be an opportunity for everyone to talk and listen, ask questions and get answers, present new ideas or options, and be free to agree and disagree.

Engage with Detractors Early on and Continuously

Your chances of getting all employees on board will not be 100% guaranteed. Complaining, being uncooperative, absences in key meetings, and withholding requested information or resources are common symptoms of resistance. Remedying these symptoms will not improve the defiant attitude of some employees.

Change management leaders need to dig deeper into the root causes of resistance. Resistant employees may lack awareness as to why change is being made, fear a negative impact on their current job, or lack visible support from their managers.

Resistance, being basically an individual circumstance, needs to be addressed at the individual level through meaningful conversations between supervisors and resistant employees.

Manage Change by Managing People

While processes, techniques, machines, and tools are important, focusing on people is crucial in creating a workable change management in the manufacturing industry. After all, it is people who perform the processes and operate the machines. Your best approach, therefore, to a smooth transition to a new way of doing things in the workplace is to use your leadership competency to create a culture that embraces change.

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