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Overcoming Change Management Barriers

There is no debating that the trajectory of robotics and other warehouse automation continues to trend upward.  You do not need to be a futurist to foresee the increased role of warehouse automation in distribution center operations.  And yes, these sophisticated systems will continue to replace roles currently occupied by humans. However, there will continue to be a role for humans even in the most fully automated environments, and not just as machine tenders but as significant players.

This point, albeit one that is still very extreme, is raised to illustrate a concept.  If your organization is considering a large-scale initiative, there is almost certainly a software systems component.  While it may not be to the extreme of fully automating your operations with robots, it is very easy to look at software and systems as the final solutions while overlooking the human impact.  Overlooking these change-management barriers typically results in failure.

There are several reasons why large-scale initiatives fail.  This failure can be often tied to the lack of a structured change management program.

There is an entire methodology for developing a structured change-management program to ensure success.  A few core concepts to keep at the forefront when developing a change management program include:

  • Identify a project sponsor.
    • The sponsor needs to be available enough to review the status of the project, evaluate the morale of the team, and remove any obstacles that would lead to failure. The sponsor should:
      • Participate actively and visibly throughout the project
      • Build a coalition of sponsorship and manage resistance
      • Communicate directly with employees
      • Be able to enforce consequences
      • Establish and help sustain organization confidence in the project
    • The sponsor needs to have the following qualities:
      • Feel the need for change
      • Have vision
      • Be willing to invest time and energy
      • Make realistic appraisal of resources
      • Have empathy
      • Anticipate customer needs
      • Understand the business
      • Have power
      • Manage consequences
  • Clearly communicate the vision (understanding senders and receivers).
    • Here’s an anecdote that drives home the concept of senders and receivers: “The supervisor may spend 95% of the conversation talking about the business and 5% talking about the implications of the employee. At home, the employee is more likely to spend 95% of the time talking about the impact on him personally and 5% on the issues facing the company.”
    • For a large-scale initiative to succeed, it is important to understand how those that are impacted by the change will receive the message. Often this is impacted by their situation at home, past experiences, whether they trust the sender, and other factors.
  • Avoid declaring victory too soon.
    • Just having the right or technically correct solution is not enough. Why?  Because it does not guarantee that employees will make the necessary changes to their behaviors and work processes.

To move your team out of the current state that they know into a future state that they do not know, you have to invest time and effort into answering a lot of why and what questions.

Here are a couple examples of questions that need answers:

  • Why are we changing in the first place?
  • What is wrong with how things are done today?
  • Why is the change happening right now?
  • Are senior leaders truly committed to this change?

Investing the time to address these concerns is worthwhile and can go a long way towards a successful project.
—Howard Turner, St. Onge Company

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