Six Sigma


Performance Improvement
H. James Harrington

The Missing Quality Ingredient

Managing processes, technology and people for continuous improvement.

Everyone is talking about continuous improvement and the need to change the way we do business if we're going to be competitive. To accomplish this, we need to change our processes, technologies and behaviors. Concepts like e-commerce, reengineering, redesign, TQM and self-managed work teams are very effective methodologies that concentrate upon changing processes through the use of technology. However, we've completely ignored the third factor involved in making the needed transformation: the people who must change.

 The organizational change management (OCM) methodology was developed to address the people side of the equation. To ensure that the people side of the transformation is handled correctly, you need to be sure that the following five steps are taken:

1. Integrate OCM into all major transformation projects. OCM must be a stand-alone project that is run in parallel with other projects, such as reengineering or e-commerce. It needs to be integrated into one combined approach that the total project team understands and applies.

2. Start early. You can't start implementing the OCM methodologies too early. Too often, we wait until the future-state process is designed before we start to address the people side of the equation. If you are starting a major transformation project in an area, it is only a matter of hours, or even minutes, before the word travels the grapevine to all of the employees in the affected area. For example, suppose that every employee has heard that a reengineering project eliminates up to 90 percent of the people in the processes to which it is applied. Based upon this belief, the employees within the area immediately start to resist the change and will do everything possible to make the project fail. To avoid this kind of reaction, the OCM activities should start even before the transformation team is formed.

3. Manage pain. An approach called "pain management" is the next key factor to consider. All employees have aspects they like and aspects they dislike about their assignments. The things that they dislike cause them pain. Change is the process of moving from a current state (where the employees are in control of what they're doing) to a transitional state (where someone else is telling them what to do and training them to do it) and, ultimately, to a future state (where someone "up there" tells them that the new process is going to be better for the organization). If employees don't feel that there's more pain related to the present state than the pain that they'll go through during the transition period and in the future state, then they'll do everything possible to undermine the transformation.

 To help employees evaluate the pain tradeoffs, managers need to help them identify the pain related to the present process. The employees can relate the pain that they're feeling today to the present process, but they don't understand that they'll encounter future pain if the process isn't changed. Managers can help them understand the future pain bound to result from the present process. Management must also provide them with a realistic vision of the future state, answering questions such as "What's in it for me?" "What's in it for the group?" and "What's in it for the organization?"

 When management provides this type of information to the employee, the employee assumes a position in which he or she can make an informed decision related to supporting or not supporting the transformation.

4. Develop sustaining sponsors. The fourth factor is the development of management support and commitment to the transformation. It's often hard to obtain management's support for a transformation project, but it's 100 times more difficult to sustain that support through the transformation period and beyond. Managers who were on board bail out due to lack of interest, conflicting interests, lack of time or transformation difficulties. This creates black-hole managers--managers who take information in but don't deliver as they're expected. Part of a good OCM process is developing sustaining sponsors and monitoring their actions to ensure that they don't transform into black holes.

5.  Train change agents in OCM. The last factor is "change agent" abilities. Most of the people we've utilized in the past to design and implement major transformation projects have excellent understanding of either the process to be changed or the technology that will facilitate the transformation. In some cases they have a good understanding of both. Most change agents were lacking a good understanding of a key part of the equation: the emotional side of the people who had to change if the project was going to succeed. Today, change agents need to be as skilled in using the organizational change methodologies as they are with the process and the technology.


 When OCM is integrated into transformation projects, it increases the effectiveness of the project by 20 percent to 40 percent and, in some cases, it makes the difference between success and failure.

About the author

 H. James Harrington is a principal at Ernst & Young and serves as its international quality advisor. He has more than 45 years' experience as a quality profes- sional and is the author of 12 books. Contact Harrington by telephone at (408) 947-6587 or by e-mail at jharrington@qualitydigest.com . Visit his Web site at www.hjharrington.com .

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