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The Journey of Change

Breaking the Status Quo

Episode Four

In our last article we explored navigating the “Knowing-Doing” challenge and captivating the wider organization - getting people involved and excited about the transformation.

At this point in the journey we are heavily focused on “Breaking the Status Quo”. Here the majority of efforts continue to be dedicated to sustaining the first set of results from the change program and demonstrating a continued improvement in performance. The change agents are still investing time and energy to ensure there are meaningful and valuable proof points for the change effort in order to demonstrate that change is possible. By this point we have new cross-functional teams that have been “putting in the reps” learning and applying problem solving tools, collecting and analyzing performance data and experimenting with these new ways of working together.

We have listened to the voice of the organization and removed critical pain points by implementing a number of rapid and practical quick wins. Now, to further challenge the status quo, we are asking people to practice and adopt new behaviors. They must embrace success as well as failure, in a safe and responsible way - in a way that promotes learning and continuous improvement. This is an important step on this journey. To effectively shift the current operating system, we need teams to practice giving and receiving direct feedback to each other, and identifying and problem solving in a much shorter interval than they have before, and perhaps failing in a few low-risk activities. We'd rather try ten things and only get two right, then to never try anything at all. In this way, learning is not an event, it is a series of experiences that are created that help shift the culture.

"Fear is sign of a growth-inducing challenge might lie ahead." Neil Stevenson, IDEO Alum and Creative Confidence Series Guest

While we may have an intellectual understanding of the necessity for failing as a pre-requisite for learning, most often this type of environment is not endorsed in organizational cultures. The risks and high costs (human, financial, reputation) associated with failing specifically in heavy industries, can make this a very difficult transition. However, it is a critical turning point for an organization seeking to create a learning culture. Leadership plays a key role here; maintaining the creative tension between the reality and the vision, standing up for and supporting efforts that are new and creative, and promoting and encouraging failing, learning and trying again.

By this point, without a set of first results, momentum will dwindle as the change journey seems unrealistic and demotivating. The first result is critical to sustaining energy and momentum, and rallying people around an effort where they can see the impact of their personal changes on the result delivered. This continues to build energy in the organization, slowly changing the state of the organization from one that was complacent and accepting of performance, to one where we strive to be better. The first result is critical to ensure that efforts to this point don’t fade because of a lack of accomplishment. It is also the ultimate communication message as success breeds further success and creates a desire from other areas in the business to take part in the changes.

April, a change agent working at a specialty chemical company, was part of an effort to transform the sales and operations planning process across a complex and geographically dispersed value chain. While the team had made significant inroads to defining the end-to-end process, identifying pain points and surfacing both systemic and behavioral issues with S&OP practices, they struggled to quantify the opportunity for improvement. The data that would support the case for change didn't exist or, when it did, had serious quality issues. Developing an a priori case for improvement was difficult to say the least. Everything that April had heard from the organization, however, reinforced her conviction that the S&OP process was still worth improving and that she could rally key stakeholders to join the effort.

Breaking the Status Quo in this case involved identifying meaningful improvements that could be made that would serve as proof points for the wider organization. She was also convinced that measurable improvement could be achieved, even if the current sets of data proved uncooperative. “We know that we aren't measuring critical points in the process. We also know what those measures should be. We know that instituting freeze dates for inputs to the S&OP process will help improve plan stability. We also know that improving plan stability will also give us a more reliable metric against which to judge plan attainment. And when we have that, we have a foundation to continually improve performance. We may not have the data set now, but we should start with the freeze dates, capture changes to the plan and build a base line as we go. The last S&OP cycle allowed us to capture one month of plan instability, so we can highlight where we were prior to making the improvements.”

April was able to persuade the organization to start measuring the phenomenon they were looking to improve, even if the past performance data wasn't available. Over a three-month period, after the initial success in implementing process freeze dates, the S&OP plan was showing more stability and they could begin to isolate the variables getting in the way of improved plan attainment. In each of the cycles that followed, the team used the opportunity to analyze and improve performance in production, warehousing, logistics and sales and began to see a steady improvement to plan attainment. Each quantified improvement served as a proof point for the organization to continue the investment in the change effort.

As we continue through the journey, the excitement and momentum has really taken hold, and the teams feel excited about the results they are tracking day-to-day, trending positively. Yet again, another challenge lies just up ahead - the “Going Deeper” challenge.

What is the “Going Deeper” challenge?

Although new tools, meetings, reports and processes have been installed in the cross-functional teams and results are trending in the right direction, people now realize that to further improve the changes required are no longer tactical or outside of their personal space. In fact further results can only be obtained by leaders and individuals changing their own personal behaviors and behavior patterns, as they develop and practice new skills and habits, thus the need to GO DEEPER and achieve personal behavior change. This takes significant time and personal investment.

"Part of going deeper is recognizing progress and celebrating success while maintaining the level of dissatisfaction." Brian Eiken, Evolve Client Partner

This is an innately destabilizing time for people and it is critical that we support them to cross this going-deeper gap. To do this, the change team must demonstrate empathy and understanding for difficulties associated with letting go of old habits. We must leverage the trusting relationships that we have built to date, and embark on regular coaching that helps people critically examine their own behaviors and the impact on others, and ultimately the results. We must create thoughtfully designed learning moments that help people bridge this gap by encouraging them to explore new beliefs.

“Without a culture that allows and encourages people to be bold, take ownership and take calculated risks, you’ll never discover the full potential of the technology and the tools that you have at your disposal. That’s the secret sauce. People who want to push things forward, technology that enables better performance, and a culture that allows innovation to happen.” Mike Henderson, VP, Marathon Oil

This is a time in the change program where leadership words and actions are amplified, and we need leaders to role model new behaviors, be comfortable with vulnerability and demonstrate increased level of self-awareness. If our leaders can step into this new culture with humility and grace we are on the right track to create the learning organization of the future.

Join us next week for the penultimate episode as we continue to explore the journey of change.

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