Performance Improvement


Master Change or It Will Master You

You can be certain that in the 21st century, change will accelerate even further.

As I sit here thinking about 1999, I begin to remember how much things have changed since my mother was born in 1904. She drove a herd of ponies from Ohio to Binghamton, New York, and sold them to buy a farm. My father was written up in the newspaper for being the first man to fly in upstate New York (he built a glider). The house we lived in had no central heat, electricity or telephone until I was six years old. I had a Saturday Evening Post magazine route that I managed at age 7. As the 20th century progressed, things began to change at an ever-accelerating rate.

 Change is inevitable, and today things are changing faster and are more complex than ever before. You can be certain that in the 21st century, change will accelerate even further.

One reason that processes like TQM, reengineering and information technology fail is that they don't include organizational change management methodologies as an integral part of their approach. It has been estimated that between 50 percent to 75 percent of all TQM and reengineering projects fail. Even after millions of dollars have been invested in individual SAP programs, 34 percent never get implemented.

We push empowerment, teams, downsizing, rightsizing, just-in-time, ISO 9000, virtual offices, quality circles, simulation modeling, outsourcing, software upgrading, automation, activity-based costing, restructuring, no-value-added analysis, quality function deployment, six sigma and all sorts of Japanese terms like kaizen teian at our employees so fast that they cannot master one performance improvement approach before being required to master another. Little thought is given to what other changes (both personal and professional) impact the individual's ability to assimilate these changes. Each change, positive or negative, has an emotional impact upon the individual. Depending on the change, the emotional impact can be big or small.

Qdbullet Big-impact changes are the personal ones or ones that affect only the individual (e.g., a death in the family, a divorce, being fired, being transferred). I call these "eight-ounce changes."

Qdbullet Medium-impact changes affect the entire group (e.g., a new manager, relocation, a new computer system, self-managed work team implementation). I call these "four-ounce changes."

Qdbullet Low-impact changes affect the entire organization (e.g., a new president, new products, a new phone system, changes to the benefits package). I call these "two-ounce changes."


Now let's assume that we are a cup that holds eight ounces of change stress, with a small hole in the bottom that lets change stress leak out at a constant rate. It's easy to see that one big change impact can fill our cup to capacity and near to overflowing. When our cup overflows, we go into a state called "future shock." When you go into future shock, you become dysfunctional. Individuals driven into future shock worry so much about what they cannot get done that they have no time left to do anything. Future shock is characterized by low stability, high stress, decreased productivity, anxiety, fear and increased conflict.

Projects like reengineering, redesign and benchmarking are all eight-ounce changes, and if any additional change stress factors are being applied to the area, the organization will be driven into future shock. In most organizations, a number of things usually are happening at the same time. People are being transferred to new jobs, managers are being reassigned, new products are being released, departments are being reorganized. Each of these adds its own specific stress factor to the stress factors generated by improvement activities.

We used to be able to implement one change at a time, letting the little hole in the bottom of the cup drain out all of the change stress before starting a new change. Today, we don't have that luxury. We need to implement many changes that impact the same area all at the same time without driving the organization into future shock. Our three options to accomplish this are:

Qdbullet Increase the size of our cup.

Qdbullet Increase the size of the hole in the bottom of the cup.

Qdbullet Schedule changes so that their combined impact doesn't overflow the cup's capacity.


An organizational change management methodology will show you how to effectively manage these three options. It will greatly enhance your ability to successfully implement your quality improvement initiatives. Please take this piece of advice--make organizational change management part of your quality improvement planning.

Last night, as I sat outside in my Jacuzzi, I saw a shooting star and made a wish for all my readers: "May your best day of 1998 be your worst day of 1999."


About the author

H. James Harrington is a principal at Ernst & Young and serves as its international quality advisor. He is a past president and chairman of the board of both the American Society for Quality and the International Academy for Quality.

Harrington can be reached at 55 Almaden Blvd., San Jose, CA 95113; telephone (408) 947-6587, fax (408) 947-4971, e-mail . Visit his Web site at .

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