Face it. In our brave new world of supply chain technology and process transformations, people are getting short shrift, not to mention the short end of the stick.
At the risk of annoying old friends and creating new enemies, I've committed to get this off my chest. I have dutifully read - well, skimmed if too many big words are in play - a lot of what's been written recently about business transformation and supply chain transformation. Techno-geeks and their utterly dazzling marketers regularly bring stunning systems to us that can enable excellence, if not pure magic.
The more thoughtful among them may recognize the importance of foundational process design and alignment as important components of a transformation activity, perhaps even desirable precursors. Process mavens take great pains to point out - quite correctly - that the sane approach is to first design solutions to business problems, and then go looking for the right technology.
Failing in that sequence is what leads otherwise well-meaning folks to make cross-country runs in rebuilt Yugos, or make an Escalade the conveyance of choice for a two-block excursion to the 7-11.
Occasionally, either the process advocate or the technology fan - most often the dirty-fingernails process type rather than the awestruck technology buff - will mention that it's important to have smart, motivated, and empowered people involved with transformation. It shouldn't take Sherlock Holmes to figure that out.
Sad reality is, though, that the "people, process, technology" mantra is generally taken to mean process and/or technology imposed upon people. In the extreme, when the technology "solution" rules, things can get downright ugly.
In a recent example, implementation of selected supply chain modules of an enterprise product discouraged - even forbade - any modifications, even those that would simplify execution tasks. "Process" revisions, and accompanying "training," were confined to the mechanics of data entry screens. The Senior Vice President for Business Transformation in charge of this gulag was bitterly disappointed by employees' bad attitudes and "resistance to change." Not to mention by the manifold workarounds necessary to introduce some thought into the brand-spankin' new processes the staff were supposed to be enjoying.
You Know What Happens When We Assume
Even when we get the horse before the cart, and concentrate on processes first, those attempting to implement serious change seldom devote commensurate attention to the people part of the equation, let alone get it right. It's a move in the appropriate general direction to talk about engagement, communications, empowerment and accountability, but too often those are merely words.
A couple of decades ago, those of us who knew that motivated people could make bad systems work, and that unengaged staff could doom good solutions, tried to integrate people into the success equation by force of personality, open communications, and complete honesty. And, that was better than ramming new ways down their throats, but it did not yield sustainable long-term, continuously improving results.
In the interim, an entire body of research - and practical application - has radically changed what is possible in elevating people and their skills in concert with the power and potential of redesigned processes, and the addition of appropriate technology.
What Really Needs To Be Done
What does it take to position an organization's people to optimize the outcomes of transformed systems and processes? Alignment, context, communication, team approaches, and, yes, engagement, empowerment, and accountability. But invoking any one of the terms does little or nothing to help people, whether working associates or C-level movers and shakers, to know what they mean or how to achieve them. Let's deal briefly with each.
Everybody's got to be on the same page - or at least know what the page says - for any major program to succeed, supply chain-related or other. Executive groups, mid-level managers, bargaining unit employees, supervisors, staff positions and department leaders. And, change sponsors and champions need to know who's on board and where the gaps are before barreling into implementation.
Accomplishing alignment rests on a series of organized programs, strategically sequenced, to build understanding, trust, engagement, and commitment. A simple announcement from the Vice President in Charge of Whatever won't do the trick.
People have to wrestle with what change can - and will - mean for them before the prospects become real. Unless and until the prospects become real, they can't possibly become engaged with or committed to change and change processes.
Managing a transformation process needs to be done in the context of where the organization is, where it needs to be, and how those realities and potentials are perceived - by both upstream and downstream business partners, peers, senior management, internal and external customers, and the working associates to be affected by changes. Radical stuff, huh? Actually listening to the voices of everyone with a stake in transformation's outcomes. SurroundSound with a purpose.
And, just imagine the collective surprise when the same constituencies are surveyed at project's end to evaluate whether and how the effort delivered on its promises. But, without this baseline and validation, the exercise has been just another project, imposed on populations of varying degrees of willingness.
We frequently say that it's nearly impossible to over-communicate, but frighteningly easy to mis-communicate. So, when it comes to major initiatives, and especially multidimensional transformational projects, a series of announcements and bulletins will almost certainly not communicate what each constituency needs to know, and can do more harm than good.
The challenge of any change initiative lies in communicating: 1) why we are doing this; 2) what's in it for me, you, us, and/or them; 3) what we will be doing and when; 4) where and how to get more information if it's needed; and 5) what's in it for you, (again).
Every big, mission-critical effort needs to have a comprehensive communication plan, with a specific series of communications (and timeline) for each set of internal and external stakeholders. (Yes, there are times when your suppliers, customers, and business partners have legitimate needs to know what's going on - and have opportunities to help the planning and implementation processes.)
Specific communications should have objectives for understanding, response, and action - and methods to test success in achieving the intended outcomes. That requirement goes way beyond posting a status update in the monthly employee newsletter.
The communications process is a major effort in itself, and demands significant resources in planning, execution, and follow-up. And, all those are dependent on the structured work of alignment and team approaches to be as effective as they need to be. Despite the time and effort required, strong and well-executed communication plans have a gigantic payoff in making everyone's lives easier - especially yours!
Everybody seems to love the idea of teams, especially those extra-special, cross-functional teams. Well, everybody except the former optimists who have invested blood, sweat and their last shreds of coherent thinking in teams that floundered and failed. Few understand how to deliberately create diverse "whole-brain" teams to optimize solutions and outcomes. Again, these concepts apply at all organizational levels.
Our natural tendencies are to shy away from individuals who are different, who aren't like us, who don't get it when we propose ideas, objectives, and methods. That's a big mistake. Our collective ability to innovate and produce unique solutions depends largely on our ability to see things differently.
Organizations - whether teams or entire companies - that structure to a model of people with similar styles and preferences can collapse because they can't see what those who are "different" see. The totally buttoned-down organization may falter because it can't visualize the benefits of taking managed risks. The wildly creative enterprise may crash and burn from lack of organization and discipline. We see this over and over as hundred-year-old iconic companies fall off the radar screen, and hot-as-a-firecracker start-ups fizzle out in the snap of a finger.
Most of us have seen, or have been subjected to, Myers-Briggs testing (MBTI) or one of its hundreds of variants based on Jungian psychological theory, and understand the four-quadrant pegging of "types" with different fundamental personalities and cognitive styles. And, we talk glibly about the differences between right-brained and left-brained individuals. These are fine, as far as they go. But, more substantive - and business-meaningful - tools link styles and preferences to the physiognomy of the human brain.
Using newer tools supports and encourages the deliberate formation of teams with diverse thinking skills and approaches to allow evaluation of all of a problem's dimensions, and to construct solutions that speak to all of the situation's stakeholders.
Further, structured programs help teams to understand - and value - the contributions of all team members. But, simply filling out the questionnaire won't get you there.
And, there's more than can be covered here about how teams operate, how they set ground rules, how they develop trust, and how they communicate among themselves. But, those factors are all part of structured, research-based, and time-tested programmatic approaches to team building.
Tying It All Together
To execute these people-centric activities in ways that make real sense, they've got to be part of a comprehensive, sequenced and prioritized, coherent track of efforts. Doing them willy-nilly, or as time permits, or as they occur to someone, is guaranteed to be ineffective on a good day, calamitous on a bad one.
People - at all levels - don't intuitively know how to build and earn trust, how to collaborate, how to set rules of engagement for groups, what authenticity really means, or how to communicate. They need training, coaching, practice, evaluation - and repetition. All planned and deliberate, with clear processes and objectives.
Additionally, some individuals will inevitably be found to need specific and personalized development. Plugging the holes, filling the gaps, and shoring up the weak spots will demand customized developmental programs for each one. And, those efforts will need to be built into the overall people component of the project.
By the way, all of this is not what people often think of as "front-end" effort. It begins at project inception, and continues throughout.
How Important Is This, Really?
It's big. Maybe that's part of why it doesn't get tackled often enough or completely enough. Take a look the brief outline above one more time. Does not doing this explain how so many major corporate efforts - business transformation, supply chain transformation, facility redesign, new system implementation, whatever - fail to meet expectations, stopping somewhere on the Yellow Brick Road before reaching Emerald City?
Think back to your last disappointing transformation experience. Would taking care of the people issues in the way just laid out have made a difference in acceptance and success? Think about an effort in your own past that was apparently successful, but which saw gains and benefits erode over a few years' time. Would changing how people thought, felt, and worked together have done a better job of institutionalizing - baking in - the qualities that support continuing improvement from the new implementation's initial performance?
Rules of thumb are hard to come by, and each organization and transformation effort are different. But, process transformation alone might command a people - human development - component of 20 percent to 25 percent of the process work alone. And, that does not include the functional training that comes with the nuts and bolts of the transformation.
Maybe that's a frightening cost to those who are focused on reining in project budgets. But, in a mission-critical supply chain integration or systems initiative it is time that we became more concerned about value than price. Investing in your human capital as well as in the other elements of transformation projects is a spectacularly good investment in making change that first, works, and second, gets better over time. It's a gift that keeps on giving.
Source: S4 Consulting
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