Enduring Change Requires Spread (among other things)

No matter how many times we say it or how hard we work to impress upon organizations that real, sustainable workflow and business process improvement requires buy-in throughout the company (or agency or non-profit), the silo effect is ubiquitous. Largely, I think that’s a function of having to do “business-as-usual” while workflow is being redesigned. Besides the silo effect, the effect of perceived temporary disruptions versus enduring transformations is like a cancer eating away at deep, lasting change. The failure point is in the implementation. It’s fine to think that work has to go on during the design, however, someone has to have create the burning platform at the highest level and help “spread” the impetus throughout the ranks.

It happens with innovation in the private sector. That is, engineers and developers get excited about a new gadget and pretty soon everyone from customer service, sales and distribution is gearing up for the launch. The mood in innovative product releases is infectious and customers begin lining up to buy.

So why is it that workflow and business process fails to ignite the same “fire in the bellies” of staff and suppliers? Failure to launch. Failure to transfer the cause and best practices among people. It’s a virus that fails to spread and succumbs to apathy.

Spread the Word (and the practice and the impact)

What we’re talking about here, folks, is culture change. Workflow and business process re-engineering/improvement projects are NOT IT projects. They lead to some of the most exciting non-techie innovations. Redesigning how work gets done means redesigning your product which means the world to your customers. It should also mean the world to every single employee and supplier you have on board. What people need to hear and see and feel is the impact of properly executed workflow re-engineering. They need to learn how it happened once it hits the floor and they need to see a closed-loop demonstrating a direct impact on the bottom-line.

Burn the Platform

Leaders at every rung on your ladder need to champion the cause. Workflow and process improvement needs to be heralded as a courageous and brilliant attempt at making the organization better. “Better” has to mean something specific. Is it a quality improvement? Is it an efficiency gain? Is it a cost-savings? Is it a new product or service feature and benefit to the end-user? Will it impact sales? There needs to be a push on people to participate as much as a pull to want to participate. Compulsory participation needs to be replaced by voluntary willingness–even a deep desire–to want to be part of the innovation.

Own the Change

Business unit managers need to own the change. This is non-negotiable. Step up or get out of the way.

Measure and Monitor the Impact

Develop key indicators and business intelligence and make the monitoring an inclusive activity. Give everyone including suppliers a chance to see how the change is impacting the bottom-line. This sounds so simple yet it invariably fails to launch. Priorities get re-assigned over the course of projects and pretty soon, people (especially leaders) drift to new initiatives. You have to cultivate the attention span to close this loop and measure your success continually.

Transfer and Spread = Fluency

In order to sustain a new language, one has to learn it in a classroom (training), practice it (pilot), and then use it regularly in a foreign environment (deploy and implement). If I really want to learn Italian, I will take a class, practice with my classmates and eventually travel to Italy and spend some weeks or months “living the language”. Heck, I may even move to Italy! The same is true of new workflow. Train your staff, enable their practice (remove obstacles) and then transform your organization so everyone is speaking a new language.

This kind of deep and enduring change is no different than me moving my family to Italy. We all need to be on the same page and we are all making a profound commitment. Think of Apple releasing the iPod. That was a profound commitment for everyone at Apple, their suppliers and their customers. That’s how this stuff has to work in order for it to endure.

Projects are Dead

I want to submit that it’s the word “project” – used by everyone everywhere – that slowly eats away at the endurance of change. That single word tells everyone “don’t worry, this will all be over soon.” Sharing and spreading best practices in the hope that they endure means a radical and permanent departure from “business-as-usual” has to take place. Kill your projects and give rise to enduring transformations.

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