Preparing Your Company For Change

The Evolving Game

Often, it seems that the only constant we have in business, is the need to change. We live in an information based society, under constant bombardment from new technologies, new business concepts and competitive threats. How we react and respond to these external forces as an organization directly determines whether our business will lead and grow or simply follow and remain static.

Just by the very fact that you are reading this article, you are obviously aware of the importance of implementing change in your organization as a means to achieving your corporate goals. Clearly, you understand that, as a service organization, technology plays an important role in maintaining efficiency and maximizing customer service, market share and profitability. Properly implemented, you understand that workforce tools can introduce new levels of economy into your organization, regardless of its size and scope.

Choosing the most appropriate technology or solution for your business can be a challenge in itself, with the bewildering array of choices, architectures and options available. Yet, where the real challenge lies is in your ability to successfully implement the chosen solution into your business seamlessly.

The purpose of this article is to provide assistance in preparing your company, its management and employees for a smooth transition. One where the chosen products and processes are accepted and adopted by the vast majority of your employees, vendors, business partners and customers. Our intention is not to create problems that may not exist, but to raise your awareness of potential pitfalls and to arm you with some tools that make the transition as smooth as possible.

The Cost Of Losing

The successful implementation of new technology into an organization depends directly on how well the change process is managed. Let’s face it, the acquisition or adoption of new technology or new processes is a major investment for any business. Not just from a cost standpoint, but from an employee and customer disruption standpoint as well.

However, the costs of adopting technology pale in comparison to the cost of failing to successfully adopt it. We have all seen or heard stories of situations where a new system was purchased by a company, caused all sorts of grief and agony, did not function properly or was not accepted by the employees and then ripped out or left to get dusty. The financial losses from lost productivity, IT investment and the new products themselves are substantial, but the real loss is on the management side. By failing to successfully integrate new technology or more efficient methods into your business, you will be making it even more difficult next time around to obtain the ownership of your employees.

Coach Or Manager?

Change is a team sport and every team needs both a Manager and a Coach.

A master carpenter can create a spiral staircase with a hammer and hand saw, yet the amateur would have a hard time using the same tools to build a simple box. It takes certain skills to be a good Manager or Coach and let’s be honest, not all of us have those skills. Which role is best suited to your own skill set? In most cases, as the business owner, you hold the vision for the company and are most likely the best qualified Team Manager. However, it is important that you conduct an honest self assessment to determine which role most suits your talents. Not all business owners are effective managers, but can be very good teachers and mentors to their employees.

All too often, technology systems are implemented, not only without an assigned Coach, but without any practice time.

To instill lasting change throughout your organization, you will likely need the assistance of a hands-on Coach. The Coach sets the plays that will achieve the corporate vision, then teaches those plays to the team. How far do you think the team would advance if the coach told the players what the plays would be just before the game for the first time? How good would the team be if the Coach never called a practice?

Recognize that it is very difficult for one individual to be both Coach and Manager. Choose one, assign the other…

Choose The Playing Field

As the business owner and likely Team Manager, your job is choose the game to be played. The Manager sets the vision for the team and sells that vision to the players, so that they become stakeholders and feel an important part of it. Technology or the planned changes are only tools to achieve the bigger vision. What is your differentiation strategy as a company? Is it that you are striving to provide the best customer service in your market, the highest product value or the lowest cost? The Manager understands how technology supports that vision and how it can help achieve the company’s objectives. Unless the whole team understands the big picture, there will be no buy-in to the planned changes.

Once that vision is defined and adopted company wide, the Manager remains fully committed to it. Sometimes that means tough calls have to be made. The effective Manager does not waiver. It is also the Manager’s role to recruit the players that maximize the team’s chances of winning.

For major change initiatives to succeed, Management must determine the game field, obtain team ownership, then remain fully committed to finishing the game.

Know Your Players

It is commonly understood, yet important to remember that there is no more difficult environment in which to to forge change than the service industry. The reason this is the case is very simply tied to the type of employees that work in the field for most service companies.

Field service employees, whether service technicians, construction workers, commercial vehicle drivers or virtually any other service worker share a common personality profile. Just as most sales people share similar personality profiles or most accountants share similar profiles.

Each general personality profile classification has a set of strengths that make them generally well suited for the career path they chose. In the case of service workers, those same strengths that make them dependable, logical, task-oriented individuals who work well in a daily, routine-prone environment, also make them dislike change or instability.

Service people most often fall into the “High S” or “Steadiness” personality profile category, otherwise known as “Steady Relaters”. Do these traits look familiar?

Key Traits Explanation
Easy Going Calm, measured low-key behavior
Slower Paced Wait until they know the steps or guidelines
Patient Tend to define themselves by their desire for stable relationships with others, often view problems as workable
Predictable Favor routine and stable conditions and practices
Persevering Likely to stick to a project for longer periods of time or at least until some concrete results are produced
Modest Less likely to blow their own horns, but are appreciative when others sincerely acknowledge their contributions
Accommodating Like to get along with other through predictable role relationships
Neighborly Prefer friendly, pleasant, helpful working relationships

The key to preparing “steady relaters” for change is to prepare them. Sound strange? In the case of field service people, preparation, reasoning and logical guidelines are keys to obtaining their buy-in. Can you imagine sending a service technician to repair a product without training or manuals? Similarly, can you imagine sending a driver to pick up a passenger or package in an unknown area of the city without driving directions or a city map? Doing so would only create frustration and take away the security and stable conditions that they thrive in.

Implementing a new workforce solution without preparing your service people for change and obtaining their ownership in the solution, in advance, is asking for trouble. Understanding the personality traits of your workers and adapting your plan to suit them will help the entire change process immeasurably.

The following chart demonstrates how to prepare your employees to change, according to their common personality characteristics. A wealth of information is readily available on this subject, as are simple personality tests, via the internet.

Characteristics Action Plan
Concerned with stability Show how your idea minimizes risk – explain how the technology will stabilize the company and their jobs
Think logically Show reasoning – involve one or two key field people in the initial product selection process, explain to all of them why you have chosen this solution and what it will do for the company
Like personal involvement Demonstrate your interest in them personally
Want documentation and facts Provide data and proof related to the benefits and the return on investment to the company
Need to know the step-by-step sequence Provide written, step-by-step instructions on how to use the new system.
Want others to notice their patient perseverance Compliment them sincerely for their support and follow through
Avoid risks or changes Give them personal assurances
Dislike conflict Avoid aggression, focus on common interests and your need for their support
Accommodate others Allow them to provide service or support for others. Involve key field people in assisting administration workers who work with the system
Look for calmness and piece Keep the atmosphere relaxing and friendly. Do not conduct a wholesale change to the new system at once. Run parallel systems or invoke a pilot system first
Enjoy teamwork Provide them with a cooperative group, make sure they are involved

Pick Your Lines

Let’s face it, not all the players on your team are going to show up on game day. That wouldn’t be so bad if they just stayed home and watched the game on TV or went bowling, or something. But worse, in real life, in real business, some of these players who don’t want to play will show up, just to disrupt the game or the other players. As the coach, you need to know who will show up to play, who will stay at home and who will come to disrupt the game. The first two types are okay. You need to deal with the third.

Understanding in advance what your best line combinations are can make a tremendous difference to your game. As a good coach or manager, you already know each player’s strengths and weaknesses. One way to work around a weak line is to assign them specific expectations or roles that you expect them to fulfill. Not every line should be expected to score a bunch of goals. Perhaps one line needs to be a defensive line and another needs to be a checking line.

If certain employees are less likely to adapt to change, perhaps they are better off being exempted initially, while the rest of the workforce is integrated with the new solution. The key is however is to set the expectation and tell them what their role needs to be. Get them to buy in to the assignment. Then, when the rest of the organization has adapted to the new playbook and ironed out any wrinkles, let their peers bring them on-side.

The staged implementation of new technology works well with line combinations. Forcing a new way of conducting business upon the entire company at once versus inviting one or two lines to have the privilege of trying out some new plays is a completely different psychology.

Think about it coach…

Assign Your Captains

Captains fulfill a critical role in bridging the communications between the Coach and the Team. The Captains are the role models for the younger players. They set the standards for a positive attitude, strong work ethic and the drive to succeed. They welcome the new players and make sure they are accepted and fit in well. The Captain is most often a veteran player that has an innate desire to win, that has earned the respect of both teammates and management.

Choose a Captain that has all these qualities, but also understands and accepts the need for change as a means to protecting the company’s future. Don’t forget, the Captain is a player, not a manager…

Draw Up The Game Plan

The game plan is the responsibility of the Coach. All too often, the Manager draws up the game plan, then leaves in the third period. Coaching is a hands-on job. Your players need the assistance of the Coach at all times during the game. The Manager is usually too busy running the daily corporate affairs of the team to be on the bench. By assigning a Coach and empowering him to execute the corporate strategy for change, you will have taken a huge step forward. The Coach then creates the game plan, teaches the overall plan to the players and books practice time.

A good Coach knows that players resistance to new plays usually stems from two factors: the fear of the unknown (and hence the fear of failure in using the new technology), and the mental and physical energy involved in learning new ways of doing things. The Coach recognizes these reasons for resistance, and then works to overcome them ahead of time, in practice.

The Coach knows that fear of failure can hinder the performance of his athletes, often leading to risk-aversion, inaction, or even attempts to block the implementation of new plays or game plans. He makes it clear to his players that he will give them the time and latitude required to learn new skills or plays – including the freedom to make mistakes. At the same time however, he sets the expectations for achievement.

An even more difficult problem than the fear of failure is the unwillingness, on the part of some players, to expend the effort required to learn the new plays. Unfamiliar ground can be stressful and confusing, particularly those more comfortable with the old ways of doing things. Other players may view the learning process as an unnecessary intrusion on their time that prevents them from focusing on their own game or skills. The smart Coach overcomes such resistance by outlining how learning new plays and skills will benefit them personally in the career.

Play The Game

The adoption of new technologies and methods is not a one-time affair. Change is a constant in today’s environment, brought on by competitive innovation, shrinking geography, improved communications, educated consumers, empowered employees and a host of technology advances.

The strategic Manager understands this and instills the flexibility in his or her team needed to cope with and adapt to the pressures of change. How the Manager responds to these pressures will affect how the entire team responds.

When substantial change is required to win the game, the strong leader prepares effectively.

Game on!