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Overcoming Barriers to Operational Change

Beyond natural human resistance there are three huge barriers to improvement in our organizations. Recognizing these barriers and knowing some ways to overcome them makes operational improvement much simpler and effective.

Leadership turnover can be the first item that is detrimental to positive operational change. Leadership turnover can be seen as an opportunity to derail any program or project implementation. The next leader in line often has a different agenda from the old one. Secretly, most middle managers pray for a new boss and a new agenda before they have to actually change anything. Continuity during any leadership changeovers that occur during implementation of any process change is vital.

An ongoing 5S audit program is a great way to stay on top of this, regardless of leadership changes. 5S workplace organization is one of the first things that many do during a world-class operational improvement implementation. From a program such as this, a top-down mandate is achieved period-over-period no matter the leadership. It also provides a basis for appraisals and job descriptions that contain specific actionable requirements which provides for excellent continuity of leadership.

Another barrier to improvement is traditional accounting and the metrics involved. It is important to remember that what gets measured gets done. When people can see hard proof of the results of their efforts, they comply with the mandate. That’s the good news. The bad news is that traditional accounting is obsolete. Despite the amazing changes we’ve seen in areas such as manufacturing over just the past ten years, accounting is still being done fundamentally the same way as it was 150 years ago.

Organizations need to rethink some of their metrics and measurement systems to provide an accurate picture of the modern business strategies and systems employed in today’s pursuit of operational success. Exploring and learning lean accounting and value stream accounting are a great way to overcome this barrier. These programs show the important metrics and measurements it makes sense to see in an organization involved in improvement change.

Lastly, there is a huge lack of urgency for change in organizations. In many cases this is the crux of the problem. Change is often implemented piecemeal, hesitantly, or half-heartedly. Leadership often communicates the idea of change, but without the sense of urgency to get it done and get it done now. They must instill this sense of importance in the people of their organization.

Two things seem to cause enough urgency for change to happen quickly: threats and visionary, dynamic leaders. Threats from the outside in the form of competition and pressure from customers go a long way toward getting everyone’s attention and driving them to make change happen quickly. Survival in the marketplace can be huge motivation to a team.

Without this sort of immediate clear and present danger, the next best source for change is the visionary and dynamic leader with the horsepower and support to drive change throughout the entire organization. The development of leaders of this caliber is a monumental task in the future change and success of any organization. Providing the tools and skills needed to all leadership levels in different methodologies, teambuilding and other management techniques is a huge benefit. It is an investment that will payout handsomely in the future.

There are many barriers to the success of any organization when it comes to implementing change. It is hoped that some of these examples along with further training and further development of an organization’s people can smooth the way for the changes required for a world-class implementation and eventually a world-class operation.

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Daniel Augustine Brilliant

Excellent points. I would add to this list IT managment practicies which are designed to restrict innovation rather than embrace it since IT is the backbone of the new wave of operation change. Even with the simplest of operational improvements, in order to measure, evaluate, and plan IT/analytical tools are increasingly necessary.

Kimberly Bozeman

Great post! I really appreciate that it highlights a key point that leaders instill the importance of change in the people of their organization. I’ve experienced this time and again in different jobs I’ve had and the places I’ve worked that had effective change had effective leaders.

I also echo what Daniel notes about IT management practices. IT is a huge component of operational change and is something leaders need to keep at the forefront of their initiatives.

Ron Crabtree

To Daniel:

Great insight! The IT function is very important in any operational transformation. It is part of the new way of looking at accounting and metrics that so many organizations fail to recognize. As you stated, in today’s fast paced world IT is the new wave in how we look at our results. This area can be a huge barrier to improvement if we don’t employ the latest technological tools to analyze and facilitate our results.

Ron Crabtree

To Kimberly:

80% of all barriers to improvement in an organization are a people or change management problem. During an improvement initiative we often forget that most organizations are people centric. Positive attitudes, good perceptions and personal involvement are vital to any operational improvement. Realizing this and managing this change effectively is the best way to achieve the desired results.