Help your new quality initiative succeed by establishing a change methodology before you make any changes.

by Don Harrison

When six sigma and other quality initiatives fail, it's often largely because an organization's leaders didn't establish a change methodology before beginning an improvement effort. Establishing a change methodology based on input from across the organization will ensure that everyone involved in the effort shares a common vision and understands the rationale for the project, its parameters and the desired goal.

 "Project Overview," developed by Implementation Management Associates as part of its 10-step "Accelerating Change" methodology, is helping organizations such as Eli Lilly, Cigna, Kaiser Permanente, Cargill, Westinghouse and TRW achieve durable change. "Project Overview" lets change initiators know what questions they need to ask and what information they need to gather before beginning new quality initiatives.

Define the project

 The first step in reaching a common understanding of the project is to briefly and clearly define the change project. Start with the "what"--what the change effort is intended to achieve, or what will be accomplished when the change is completed.

 After the "what" will come the "who," "when," "why" and "how." Unless the project is defined clearly, the chief quality officer, other senior managers and anyone else involved in the quality initiative may charge off in opposite directions, each with a different idea of how to accomplish the change. You'll find the answers you need by asking the following questions:

  What situation presented itself to demonstrate the need for this change? The problem can be relatively compact, such as a high rate of rejects on one assembly line, or sprawling, such as the need to meet ISO 9000 standards. Even a small event may contain myriad layers, divisions, departments or teams; each will need to integrate durable change into the specific work and the whole change project.

  Who originally identified the situation or issue? The CEO might have had the sharp eyes to spot the situation, but it's very likely that an engineer, supervisor or quality control manager realized the need for quality improvement. Note that some organizations may need to develop their abilities to recognize that valid suggestions do, indeed, emerge from unlikely sources.

 The first person to see the problem is its champion. He or she is the person who can best articulate the problem for those managers who will become the initiative's sponsors. If the champion is a lower-level employee, he or she will have to enlist sponsors--people in high enough places in the organization to be able to make things happen. Sponsors can authorize the change and allocate the resources (money, time and talent) to implement it.

  Do key players and the people affected by this project perceive this given situation as an opportunity or a need? Examine the organization's culture and attitude. Do key people suspect a crisis requiring an immediate or time-consuming fix, or do they see a situation that implies competitive advantages?

 To learn how people feel about the change project, the project's leaders need only look at the organization's various frames of reference (FORs). Every member of the organization, whether an assembly-line worker, an engineer, a documents coordinator or a senior manager, works within an FOR. FORs also overlap, so ask how a change in shift hours will affect a given line. Find out if the participants all understand the purpose of the quality effort, and whether they believe that it will positively affect their work and the organization's cultural life. If not, it's time to communicate the purpose to all of the FORs.

  What would the consequences be if the organization didn't make this change? Everyone in the organization must know the costs of maintaining the status quo. No one, not even those who see the necessity of the change, will like the idea of doing things differently (or with different people or with different tools). But they will make the transition more readily when they know how the new procedures will improve upon existing practices.

  What is the specific motivation to pursue a state different from where the organization is now? Motivation can come from inside, outside or both. It can be self-directed and visionary, aimed at leading the organization to higher quality and profitability, or it can be environmentally directed, as by new government rulings. Proceeding suddenly with a quality initiative to keep the wolf from the door is a worst-case scenario, but it happens.

 For an example of an internally motivated quality change initiative, imagine that your research and development department has developed a more durable, longer-lasting product that will have customers rushing to replace their current models. The current model's quality is high, but the new one has greater capacity and a sturdier casing. Customers will snatch it up once it gets out there, but producing it will mean longer hours, more complicated engi- neering and tightly focused marketing. Putting these elements into place means accurately defining the time frame for implementing the initiative and then sticking to the deadlines.


Describe the desired state of the organization

 To complete this step, the key sponsors and managers briefly describe the outcomes of a successful implementation for each of the three elements of the change project: business, technical and human. They focus on the essentials of the desired state--after all, if the organization doesn't know what the desired state is supposed to look like, how will anyone know when it's been reached?

 Understanding the desired state also enables the organization to closely track and measure each step in the quality process. Results can be shared with the agent and anyone else working to keep the change process moving forward.

Know your CAST

 It's critical to the success of your project to know who's authorizing the implementation of and providing the resources for this change effort. Any change effort has a CAST of characters:

  C hampions want the change but lack the resources to implement it.

  Agents ensure that the change happens; they plan and execute the architecture of implementation.

  S ponsors. Every change has two kinds: Authorizing sponsors authorize, legitimize and demonstrate ownership for the change and have the power or influence to commit resources; reinforcing sponsors reinforce the change at the local level. A demonstration of commitment is the primary vehicle by which senior leaders express the key strategies and priorities designated for execution.

  Targets are those people in the organization who are most affected by the change. They must change their behavior and deal with the knowledge and emotions that accompany change.


 Senior management, sponsors and change agents should understand throughout the process the FORs present within the organization. When they can speak to people in their own languages, the message becomes clearer.

Identify those affected by the change

 Whether the targets are potential sponsors or the last assemblers on the line--and whether the impact on them is direct or indirect--one thing will inevitably happen: resistance. It doesn't matter whether people perceive the change as positive or negative; resistance to major change is inevitable (although not necessarily logical). Positive perception will lead first to uninformed certainty ("I like the idea, but I don't know why"), then to pessimism ("OK, I know something now--but I'm not sure I like it after all"), hope ("Hey, I see how my job will improve"), and finally to satisfaction and confidence ("I know what's happening, and it'll work fine").

 Negative perceptions of change produce immobilization, denial and anger ("If I do nothing, maybe it'll go away... it's not going away... why are they doing this to me?"). The reactions move on to bargaining, depression, exploration of the idea and, finally, acceptance of the project. Having the leaders' attention, along with honest answers to their questions, turns targets' negative perceptions to positive ones.

 Because resistance will happen, overt resistance is much preferred to covert resistance. Managing covert resistance entails much more work, energy, time, communication and reinforced commitment, because you must bring the resistance into the open to address it honestly and as fully as possible. After resistance has been addressed, commitment will follow more quickly.

Identify the change agents

 The change agents--the people responsible for making the change happen--have a solid understanding of the corporate culture, and the key sponsors believe in their ability and their credibility with the targets. The targets trust them. Effective change agents develop networks so that sponsors, agents and targets can work together toward common goals, even in the face of potential barriers such as different values and cultural diversity.

 Unfortunately, overeager change agents sometimes undertake changes that the sponsors neither wanted nor requested, or the agents equate activity with success. Such mistakes are less likely if sponsors have worked with the change agents to reach a common understanding of the change project.

Establish milestones to monitor progress

 In any change initiative, it's critical to identify milestones to monitor progress and assign responsibility for doing so. Although money, time and technology are important components of a change initiative, people issues require the most planning. Ironically, the human element is most often neglected. The statistics show that, on average, one-fourth of the employees will support the change effort. Half of them will be "fence sitters" who may or may not go along with the change, depending on how the implementation is handled. The remaining quarter (which may include one out of four senior-level executives) will resist the change no matter how it's undertaken.

Identify resource constraints

 It's important to identify the resource constraints, such as money, time, technology or people, that might affect project implementation. Money doesn't care whether it's used to perpetuate the old ways or implement new methods. Time charges on, refusing to stand still or reconfigure itself into 48-hour days. Technology continues to confuse everyone but the information technology gurus. And then there are the people.

 When the people issues are resolved, the organization may well discover that other constraints loosen. People fully committed to the initiative will find ways to make it happen.

Spread the news

 When the leaders of the initiative are satisfied with what needs to be done and how it's to be accomplished, they should seek to enlist everyone who needs to understand the process and its implications.

 If the overview has omitted any of the FORs in the organization, this is the time to pull in the key people from these FORs and solicit their ideas. (Remember to act on the good ideas--and let these people know their ideas are appreciated.)

 Change happens. Any initiative will move with more ease and speed, saving costs in money and human energy, when it begins with an agreed-upon definition--and alignment on the answers to important questions.

 But that's not the end. Whether in manufacturing, management or the marketplace, quality requires constant vigilance and durable change efforts.

About the author

 Don Harrison is president of Implementation Management Associates (IMA), Brighton, Colorado, which provides a structured, repeatable, transferable, measured methodology for organizational change. Contact him at dharrison@qualitydigest.com .

 The Project Overview exercise is a copyrighted tool that is proprietary to IMA and may not be reproduced without permission. Contact IMA at (800) 752-9254 or by e-mail at imacolo@aol.com . IMA's Web site is located at www.implementation.net .

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