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About the Author

Cliff Holste is Supply Chain Digest's Material Handling Editor. With more than 30 years experience in designing and implementing material handling and order picking systems in distribution, Holste has worked with dozens of large and smaller companies to improve distribution performance.

Logistics News

By Cliff Holste

October 30, 2013



Managing Change & Expectations

Lessons Learned from Big Government Blunders


Holste Says:

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While achieving a high level of buy-in is an important objective, a business is not a democracy.
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Previous Columns by Cliff Holste

Logistics News : Reducing DC Operating Costs thru the Adoption of Automation Technologies

Logistics News : Calculating Inventory Levels Complicated By Shorter Product Life Cycles

Logistics News : Is Your DC Order Fulfillment System Out-of-Date?

Logistics News : High Frequency of Internet Orders Drives DC Automation

Logistics News : Three Key Factors for Implementing a Profitable Returns Capability

More

When you consider the manner in which most new government sponsored social/political programs are proposed, it may be hard to believe that human beings are capable of rational thinking. It is a fact that whenever new policy changes are proposed there will be many diverse opinions and objections voiced along with some hysteria and name-calling. This unique human behavioral characteristic extends beyond politics into the business world.

As it relates to improving and growing a business, change is inevitable. When confronted with the need to implement changes, dealing with the associated people issues is complex, and can be frustrating as well as time consuming. But, alas, absolutely necessary if any large-scale implementation is to be accomplished successfully.

Forcing change will most likely result in a highly troubled and perhaps dysfunctional operation (such as the ObamaCare rollout). Getting people to work together to develop broadly acceptable solutions that satisfy company goals and objectives, and that achieve “buy-in” - is the key enabler leading to project success.

Implementing major policy and/or operational change can have a significant emotional and intellectual impact on people. Some changes, especially those involving automation, will require the development of new skills. Efforts must be made to dispel any miss conceptions and help people grow comfortable with the new processes and technologies involved.

Understanding and trusting new technologies can be a stretch for some people. The tendency (human nature) is to protect the status quo. The expression ‘Don’t through the baby out with the bathwater’ comes to mind. Extra effort must be invested up front to educate and train both operations and maintenance personal on the merits of adopting new methods that have an established track record of success in similar operations. Once they understand the benefits and become comfortable with the proven technologies involved, they will be better prepared and more likely to champion the project and work for its success.

 

Develop Trust in the Partnership

In order to avoid buyer’s remorse, care must be taken not to oversell the projects benefits. What you expect from the project and how you will measure its success must be established in the planning stage and explained to all stakeholders. A sense of partnership must be developed. For some companies this may include key customers who may experience some fluctuation in service levels during various phases of the implementation.

When planning any major changes, adopt the following proven practices from industry consultants and system integrators:


  • Operations people must be involved with system planning and have a clear understanding of their jobs/responsibilities after implementation.
• Managers must understand the results that are expected and the timing for the realization of these results.
• Project goals and objectives must be established, explained, tracked and understood. Everyone involved should have a clear understanding of what constitutes project success.
• On-going communications with all parties involved must be a priority, as those who do not understand what is happening will envision the worst case.
• When problems occur, look for immediate resolution - not blame.
• Develop and maintain a “Project Planning Book” as the up-to-date record for all project related decisions and issue a book to all stakeholders. See - “Material Handling Automation Projects – By the Book”.

Of course, there will be speed-bumps along the way. By adopting the above practices you have a much better chance of avoiding a “train wreck”.


Final Thoughts

While achieving a high level of buy-in is an important objective, a business is not a democracy. Employees do not get to vote on business planning and strategy. However, unless they are going to be replaced with programmable robots, they need to be properly motivated, trained and inspired to perform their assigned tasks. Being included in the planning process is an effective way to overcome their fears and concerns while promoting a sense of shared responsibility.

Recent Feedback

 Great article!


We see, quite often, that major automation projects fail implementation as designed and that the implementation that does take place underperforms.  I think it is often overlooked that the problem is not always with the automation, but with resistance to change.  I was very interested in the steps you outline for a successful project because they highlight some of the most important factors in organizational change. Buy-in, measuring and tracking success, and communication are all absolutely necessary, but sometimes forgotten.  Perhaps there is too much faith in how much a new automation system, or solution can lead the change.  In the end, the human factor can make or break a project.

 


Vic Pedregon
Student
MBA Program
Nov, 25 2013
 
.