It would be tremendously satisfying if I thought there was a resounding “great” coming from everyone reading this; unfortunately I know that isn’t the case. An April 16th article in the Harvard Business Review titled “Change Management Needs to Change” by Ron Ashkenas notes a failure rate of 60-70% for organizational change projects.
There are two aspects of that statistic that particularly concern me. First is that failure of improvement programs will lead people to stop trying. The only thing certain in that case is that slowly your business will die. No one in business today can afford to not be continually renewing themselves. The result of complacency is arguable not in outcome; only the schedule of how that outcome manifests itself.
The second concern is that management does not make an objective analysis of how successful their programs are and fool themselves into a sense of comfortable but false achievement.
The belief that a change management program cannot succeed without the full buy in of upper management is true, but having that buy in does not assure success. Equally important is the full buy in and philosophical conversion of all managers.
The key here is “philosophical conversion”, and that is distinctly different than professed buy-in. You will not find the answer to this by directly asking; you will find it only in actions and results. This is one of the reasons why appropriate performance metrics are so important to measure success or failure. More importantly, firsthand monitoring of your managers actions will quickly show if their conversion is substantive or only convenient. A manager walking past bad practice without corrective coaching, or even recognition of bad practice is a dead giveaway that philosophical conversion has not taken hold.
I have talked in the past about “organizational elasticity”, the retained power of an organization to revert to its former state. Without philosophical conversion there is no chance of overcoming this reversion.
So---how do you determine if your managers have made the leap of conversion? You will find it in an ability to apply the principles that you are trying to instill. If this is a lean program and they see unnecessary steps as waste because they have been trained to look for them, that is fine, but can they see unnecessary reaching, turning, fumbling, etc. as waste without it being specifically pointed out to them?
Success requires we all have a mentality of evaluating our actions based on “value added” and our managers need to be able to apply that philosophy on their own: not by simply counting footsteps but by applying the concepts.
Key to success of any improvement program is the buy in of the workers themselves, an acceptance that their actions have to add value and avoid waste. To do that they clearly have be taught the concepts. If your managers don’t understand the concepts they can’t teach them either.
You have two options for managers that haven’t made the philosophical conversion, retrain (and monitor) or replace.