Much has been written about change management and culture change. Most of it comes down to two basic ideas: Communicating about what’s happening, and working to get people to do what you want them to do.
Communication is straight forward, although it is often poorly implemented. People want to know what is going on. Conversely, if they know something is going on that might affect them, and they don’t know what it is, they become anxious. Thus, for example, when a team of consultants shows up in a work area and starts asking questions, the local employees wonder why the consultants are there. If time passes without an explanation, various employees begin to guess what might be happening, rumors spread, and agitation increases. Managers and process consultants ought not let this happen. People need an explanation, and process consultants ought to be ready to give them one. Indeed, its only by explaining what is up, that a process team can begin to judge what kind of resistance they might encounter later, and can begin to formulate ways to explain or make changes that will prove more acceptable.
Now imagine that the process team has examined an environment and come up with some changes they are sure will improve productivity. Next the changes have to be explained and “installed.”
Most people have expectations as to what they should and should not be doing. They have a concept of their job, for example, and will resist having that concept changed. The line: “I wasn't hired to do that!” pretty much sums up this position. The team that want’s to promote a change better have a good explanation of why the change fits with the current work patterns – or they better be prepared to negotiate with employees to change the agreements on which current work patterns are based.
Assuming the process team has a good explanation and the change is accepted as a reasonable change, then we have the “installation” problem. There are lots of theories about work and motivation. Some are interesting, but very hard to apply in actual practice. The best theory for those working in business is based on the approach that psychologists term “behaviorism.” In a nutshell, behaviorism suggests that people tend do things that are followed by positive consequences. Over time, if a particular work pattern is consistently followed by positive consequences, it tends to become the way people behave.
First, let’s be clear that there are all kinds of positive consequences. For some employees, just doing something in association with friends is positive. For most a word of praise, or just knowing that one did something exactly as expected, is a positive consequence. Think of an athlete working hour after hour just to shave a few seconds of his or her time at some bit of performance. Assure employees know what perfect performance is, and be sure to notice those that approximate perfection.
Income is usually a positive consequence, but it is usually rather delayed, and positive events closer to the desired performance are usually more effective in establishing new behaviors. In the longer run, however, in business environments, salaries, incentives and bonuses, and ultimately raises and promotions are the major positive consequences we need to deal with.
There are some corollaries. If someone has been doing a task one way for a long time, they have probably become good at it, and been reinforced for being a skilled performer. A change does two things: it removes the possibility for getting praised for doing what one has been praised for in the past, and it makes it likely that the employee will do things that show he or she has not yet mastered the new task. In the worse case, it opens the employee up for criticism for bad performance. We all know how reluctant we can be to adopt a new software application. We know it will slow our performance and lead to frustration, when we find that we don’t know how to get the results we want from the new software system. It takes time to learn and then become skilled with a new approach.
Installing a change will go best if the managers responsible for the change initially put the emphasis on the importance of the change itself, and praise employees for making the effort to change. At first, skilled performance isn’t nearly so important as simply making the effort. As time passes, and skills improve, there will be time to refocus the praise on superior performance using the new procedure.
In an ideal world, every employee would be treated as salespeople and senior managers are at most firms. There would be clear incentives for performing tasks and rewards and bonuses when goals were met or exceeded. Consequences have been proven to work and they tend to be used when performance is really important. What is unfortunate is that too few organizations regard day-to-day operational work as important enough to treat it in the same manner. Too few employees have clear targets and too few receive clear rewards when they meet or exceed their goals. Many don't even receive feedback to let them know their performance is meeting or exceeding expectations. A good local manager or supervisor can go a good way towards ameliorating this situation by using praise of various kinds to reward employee achievement.
The opposite of positive consequences is negative consequences – from a mild rebuke to punishment of various kinds. Lots of research suggests that punishment leads to unpredictable consequences. Most employees resent rebukes, and, in the worst cases, punishments lead to more and more erratic or ultimately destructive behavior.
There are obviously situations where negative consequences are appropriate, and even required. Employees must be warned not to undertake tasks in ways that might lead to their, or a customer, being harmed. They must be warned not to do things that are incompatible with corporate policies, either because they are illegal or disruptive in various ways. That said, one might expect a good manager or supervisor to praise quite a bit and rebuke only when necessary. In fact, observation in most work environments would suggest that most managers or supervisors do just the opposite: They are quick to criticize and they very rarely complement or praise employees. The major exception is usually sales, were the focus on meeting goals and the rewards of exceeding targets leads to a culture that often focuses on celebrating success.
Stepping back from these generalities, how should a process team approach rolling out a new business process redesign? The first thing to say is that the process team will only have control of the initial days of the rollout, if that. Before the process redesign is completed the process team can do a lot to communicate about the redesign. The goal and the nature of the redesign can be discussed in meetings or with individual employees. If training classes are offered to impart new skills to employees, those are opportunities to communicate what the organization hopes to achieve by redesigning the process. A pep talk by senior management may even help get everyone exciting about the change.
But sooner or later, the process team goes away and the local managers and employees are left alone with work to be done and a new process to use as they try to do that work. As pressure mounts for productivity, managers or employees will be tempted to fall back on previous ways of doing things – approaches they understand better and know will produce results. It requires discipline to struggle to use the new procedures and to establish the skills that will make the new approach a better way of accomplishing the work. If, as an outside observer, you want an idea of whether or not the new process will become established and succeed, your best bet is to look at the consequences that have been installed in conjunction with the rollout. Does the manager or supervisor have clear goals and targets? Are their clear consequences riding on his or her success in getting the new process to work? Equally, do the new employees have clear goals, targets and are their positive consequences if they succeed in implementing the new process? Are the managers and supervisors quick to recognize effort and then success? Does recognition and, ultimately, perhaps a bonus follow successful performance?
A good motivational system to assure a successful process rollout won’t simply happen. It requires planning, financial budgeting, and, perhaps, training for managers and supervisors. If the process redesign team doesn’t assure that this planning, budgeting and training is understood and put in place before the rollout begins, then it probably won’t be, and the process team may have to watch as their new process design sinks, a victim of resistance to change and indifference. Smart business process redesign teams regard the design and management of the process rollout as one of the most important phases in the change project. They work just as hard assuring that the process will be accepted as they work to assure that the new design will accomplish performance goals. It requires lots of meetings, lots of work with managers and finance people, lots of specific training sessions and lots of praise for those who make the effort required.
This isn't rocket science after all. We understand the basics of motivation. We apply that understanding where it’s important — to achieve good sales results, and to encourage senior managers to achieve goals set by their boards and shareholders. The question is whether we are going to apply what we know about motivation to assure that the new business process is rolled out effectively.