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Columnist H. James Harrington

Photo: Scott Paton, publisher

  
   

Overcoming Barriers to Positive Gains
Change management must begin at the executive level.

Stanley A. Marash, Ph.D.
smarash@qualitydigest.com

 

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.

About the author

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. Letters to the editor regarding this column can be e-mailed to letters@qualitydigest.com.