Some time ago one of my executive coaching clients asked me how to develop an effective change management process in her business. First, I asked her what level of change management procedures her company had in place. Second, I asked her what her level of interest was in engaging her employees and supervisors in the process. She indicated that she did want to involve them in the process so I asked her if she would be open to creating the following process and environment she needed to create in order for it to be successful. She agreed.
Practical experience suggests that the employer and employees who work together to create meaningful change processes can and do increase company productivity & profit.
There are several steps to a change process. Depending on the problem, the organization, the stakeholders, the cost, the timeframe, and the impact on the business this process can be more detailed. Simply put, we are describing the high level steps to a change process.
Identify The Problem
Give it a name, understand it, discuss with other members in the business what it is, and, what it is not.
Identify The Causes
Engage in a structured discussion with others on the potential causes and ensure that all ideas are considered; don’t consciously omit ideas because your perspective or the perspective of others may dismiss a potential cause.
Select The Main Cause(s)
Achieve agreement with others on the main cause(s) of the problem. Oftentimes using a voting system works well if there is no observable consensus.
Identify A Solution
Engage in a structured discussion on potential solutions, ensure all ideas are considered, consider time and cost factors to the solution.
Select A Solution(s)
Achieve agreement with others on the preferred solution(s) ensuring that all affected stakeholders have an equal part in the discussion and the decision.
Develop An Implementation Plan
Identify who will be responsible for implementation of each of the various solution steps, how it will be determined to be effective, and under what circumstances should stakeholders discuss the change in process.
Evaluate The Solution(s)
When the rubber hits the road there are times when the prescribed solution does not fit precisely into reality. Be prepared, and prepare those with whom you work, to modify the solution. Some of the alternative solutions, or parts thereof, that were identified earlier in the process are often invaluable in this type of situation.
In every instance where there are business processes and systems, whether formal or informal, it’s helpful to periodically assess the effectiveness of each process and system to accomplish its objective or purpose. Developing an environment that openly shares and discusses the effectiveness or efficiency of business processes and systems helps to stimulate employee or work team change discussions.
For example, in most instances businesses will issue invoices that are due and payable on or before 30 days, and it’s customary to assess interest charges for amounts due past the 30 day period. In a challenged economy it’s not uncommon to find accounts receivables moving past that 30 day mark due to restricted cash flow challenges being experienced by the customer. Normally a business would assess the charge and not change its practices.
Let’s consider an alternative that then creates a change – the accounts receivable assistant sees a particular account regularly past its 30 day period. Instead of assessing the finance charge the assistant calls the customer and discusses whether there is a problem with the service, or if there is a problem in the customer’s ability to pay. The assistant identifies there is a cash flow challenge with the customer and next discusses with her supervisor whether it makes sense to enable the customer to pay in smaller installments over a longer period of time.
The receivables collection process is sound yet in this example the accounts receivable assistant is valued by management to take initiative, inquire, and propose a solution in order to ensure processing of payables. The assistant is enabled to suggest a change based on economic conditions.
Discussing and Measuring the Change
In the example above the accounts receivable assistant will need to inform a variety of employees, customers, vendors, and other strategic partners of the change, unless management indicates it should be applied on an exception basis only.
The assistant will need to communicate to the customer the nature of the change, the reason for it, the terms of the change (when payments are due and in what increments -weekly, for instance), and the implications if the changed terms are not followed. The assistant will be responsible for evaluating the effectiveness of the change in improving cash flow, lessening time spent on receivables collection monitoring, or other factors determined relevant to the situation.
Informing others within the organization of the change can best follow the analytic process with a slight shift in focus. For instance:
- The problem is identified and the solution is described.
- The causes to the problem are summarized in a manner that supports the solution.
- The implementation plan and evaluation process are described to ensure it’s understood what the next steps will be and whether the solution will adequately address the problem.
Each time a change is proposed it should incorporate measurement criteria. Basic criteria include time and cost, qualitative, and other quantitative data. Surveys of affected stakeholders may be considered to collect data that is not readily available through existing reporting channels.
My executive coaching client has been implementing this process for the past year. Guess what? Her employees are very pleased she provided them an opportunity to participate and a process to follow.