Overcoming Barriers to Positive Gains
Stanley A. Marash, Ph.D.
The past two columns in this
series on change management have considered the inevitability
of change and the financial implications of not changing.
In this column, we'll look at some of the barriers to change
and how to overcome them.
Companies that are information-driven and customer-focused
continually change and improve. Those that don't risk extinction.
Successful organizations must demonstrate that they've designed,
developed and implemented strategies that not only satisfy
customers but also create measurable improvements in the
quality of their services, products, business processes,
support services and suppliers. Furthermore, these measurable
improvements must lead to bottom-line results in the companies'
financial and/or operational metrics. However, creating
an organizational climate that permits continual improvement
means recognizing and overcoming obstacles to change.
Personnel resistance remains the dominant barrier to change,
and this resistance--perhaps surprisingly--is most prevalent
at the supervisory and management levels rather than the
operational level. Operational people commonly complain
that management doesn't understand what's going on and acts
in ways that hinder service and product quality.
Many supervisors, managers and senior executives have
worked in environments that emphasize control. As a result,
their managerial philosophy is that people will slow down
or provide less quality if they're not closely supervised.
Yet this same management group agrees that it and its subordinates
spend 50 percent of their time in nonvalue-added activities.
Often, change won't occur in companies--even when senior
executives are well aware of the benefits--because middle
managers, supervisors and staff fear giving up control.
Many workers don't believe that management will ever really
change. They've watched for years as these managers implemented
fads such as cost reduction, profit improvement, management
by objectives, participative management, zero defects, quality
circles and TQM. Eventually, these "programs du jour"
meet their demise because management lacks true consistency
of purpose. Upon hearing of any new scheme, employees are
convinced that management won't stay the course. (I've visited
companies involved in launching a new program and found
that operational personnel have set up a pool for the employee
who comes closest to guessing when the program will fail.)
Quality initiatives will continue to exhibit such frailty
as long as senior executives fail to understand what's really
needed before committing to change. Such a lack of understanding
typically leads them to measure success in ways that ultimately
doom the initiative.
During the 1950s, for example, managers measured the success
of SPC activities by counting how many control charts were
in place. In many cases, companies ended up competing in
"the great control chart race," in which charts
were implemented solely to increase the count--without adding
any value to the processes.
During the 1970s, quality circles were widely introduced
in U.S. companies. Again, success was determined by how
many quality circles a company formed. Circles failed because
middle managers and supervisors felt threatened by teams
made up of operational personnel. Moreover, measuring success
by the number of teams resulted in institutionalizing the
teams while disregarding their results.
During the 1980s and 1990s, many companies embraced total
quality management. Once again, however, companies emphasized
form rather than substance by counting SPC charts and problem-solving
teams, just as today many companies evaluate Six Sigma in
terms of the number of Green and Black Belts they've trained.
Perhaps the most pervasive obstacle to change, however,
is the manner in which we see ourselves and others. As long
as we perceive that we're OK but everyone else needs to
change, little progress will be made. A well-known CEO of
a Baldrige Award-winning company explained that his company's
major turnaround occurred when he recognized that managers,
not operators, were responsible for quality problems. Upon
gaining this insight at a company banquet, he stood on a
chair and announced to his executives that if they were
to improve, they must all stand up and acknowledge: "We
are the problem!"
The best way for an organization's leadership to overcome
these barriers is to stay focused on its customers--internal
as well as external. A strategic quality plan must clearly
define the company's vision/mission(s), goals/objectives
and strategies/tactics. It must enable the organization
to answer these questions:
Who are our customers?
What are their needs and wants?
How do we measure needs and wants?
Are we satisfying those needs and wants?
What can we do to exceed customer expectations?
Each part of the organization can then concentrate on
accomplishing a series of supportive activities that, together,
will result in the company realizing its vision.
Stanley A. Marash, Ph.D., is chairman and CEO of The SAM
Group, which includes STAT-A-MATRIX Inc. and Oriel Inc.
This article is adapted from Marash's upcoming book, Fusion
Management. Note: Fusion Management is a trademark of STAT-A-MATRIX
Inc. ©2003 STAT-A-MATRIX Inc. All rights reserved.
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