In the wake of the recent election, there has been a lot of talk about the types of changes we’ll be facing over the next few years. The continuing analysis of the election and a recent plane ride have given me a good refresher course on some of the critical factors that enable a successful change in an organization or doom it to failure.
The day after the election, I was traveling home to Houston and I took the advice that I give to my two college-age sons: if you really want to know what’s going on with a particular issue, make sure you get at least two different points of view and the truth is likely to fall somewhere in the middle. So I bought a copy of The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal to read their analyses of the election results. Needless to say, the newspapers had some fairly different interpretations of the same sets of facts. Sometimes, it was a matter of drawing different conclusions from the same set of data and other times it was a matter of which facts were emphasized and in what order that would lead a reader in two different directions depending on which paper I was reading.
The following week, I was traveling home after our project team delivered the final presentation to our executive sponsors. Our team had recommended a number of changes to the client’s supply chain; some fairly straight forward and others that would require a significant change in culture. As it happens, I sat next to a gentleman who helps companies change cultures. We had a good conversation, helped by our third row-mate, who bought drinks for the row, about a number of different things. However, one thing that stuck with me was his premise that an organization’s results are determined by its culture. In this organizational model, actions drive results, but beliefs drive actions. Thus, to change the results in a company, one must change the beliefs held by the people who impact the results.
Once again, I was reminded that the key to a successful change is the people who run the process. If they are not engaged and if they don’t believe that the change will be a good one, you’re in for a very rough ride. Further, when trying to understand the current beliefs that drive the actions that drive the success of your change, it’s best to seek out more than one source of information.
Here at Profit Point, we typically put in a fair amount of effort up front to scope out a project together with our client. This typically helps us and our client to set appropriate expectations and develop mutually agreeable deliverables. These are key to project success. But another key element to project success is getting good quality data that will allow our clients to make cost effective decisions from the analysis work we are doing or the software tool we are implementing.
Decision support models are notoriously data hogs. Whether we are working on a strategic supply chain network design analysis project or implementing a production scheduling tool or some optimization model, they all need lots and lots of data.
The first thing we do (which is usually part of our scoping effort) is identify each of the data types that will be required and what will be the source of this data. To do this we start with what decisions are trying to be made and what data is required to make them successfully. From there we identify if the data currently exists in some electronic form (such as an MRP system) or whether it will have to be collected and entered into some system (say a spreadsheet or database program) and then figure out how the data will get into the tool we are developing.
Second, we try to get sample data from each data source as early as possible. This allows us to see if the assumptions that were made as part of the scoping effort were valid. There is nothing like getting your hands on some real data to see if what you and your team were assuming is really true! Often there are some discoveries and revelations that are made by looking at real data that require design decisions to be made to be able to meet the project deliverables.
Third, to help with data validation we find it extremely helpful to be able to visualize the data in an appropriate way. This could take the form of graphs, maps, Gantt charts, etc. depending on the type of data and model we are working on. On a recent scheduling project, we had the schedulers review cycle times in a spreadsheet but it wasn’t until they saw the data in Gantt chart form that they noticed problems with the data that needed correcting.
Identifying data sources, getting data as early as possible and presenting the data in a visualized form are absolutely required to make a project successful. Omitting any of these steps will at least add to the project cost and / or duration or possibly doom the project to failure.
Over the past week I’ve had two experiences that made me think about what’s required for a successful Organizational Change. The first was our CSCMP Roundtable tour of a family-owned food distribution company that had built a large, successful regional business by leveraging their founder’s focus on customer satisfaction and valuing his employees as cornerstone of the business. The company had recently been purchased by another family-owned company and was in the midst of a successful wholesale change in IT systems and work processes. Having seen many organizations struggle with such a large change, I asked our host about the secret of their organizational change. In a word, he said, “Culture.”
Immediately after the new owner had completed the purchase, they spent a lot of time with the employees reassuring them that the values of the company wouldn’t change even though the way that they did their jobs might change dramatically. In the end, the two companies’ cultures valued the same things: customer satisfaction and their employees. With that in mind the change management effort began as an inclusive effort with a clear set of goals for the new work processes. Not that there weren’t any bumps in the road, but the two once-separate organizations were able to push towards the new way of doing business as a common team.
So what does that have to do with a bike ride on a windy day? That’s where the second experience of the week comes in. Over the weekend, I completed a two-day 176 mile ride around Galveston Bay. Just like a good organizational change-management effort the first day was preceded by a lot of training and preparation and accompanied by excitement and adrenalin. We had some tough slogs, particularly one 21 mile stretch directly into a 15 mph headwind. It was grueling, but we knew it was coming and grunted our way through it. But then came the pay-off, the headwind became a tailwind as we sailed down the coast on our way to the finish line for Day 1. Again, like an organizational change, we had some tough slogs, but our preparation paid off and we were able to celebrate as we hit our first big milestone.
The second day of the ride promised to be a tough one. We had already ridden 97 miles on the first day, winds were blowing at almost 20 mph and were forecast to be mostly in our face all the way back to our starting point on Day 1. I knew it would be a challenging day, so I decided that speed was not very important; just finishing. In addition, I knew that I needed to find some like-minded riders so we could work together into the wind. Luckily fate smiled upon me and I found a couple of riders that were taking the same approach to the ride. We teamed up, taking turns pulling from the front so that the other two could draft and waiting for each other when we had flat tires. We also got to celebrate when we turned away from the wind and had it at our backs for short stretches before turning into it again. The parallels to a successful organizational change jumped out at me.
- We made a realistic assessment of the challenges ahead
- We set goals that were within our reach, given the challenges
- We found allies with the same mind-set and worked as a team towards a common goal
- We celebrated success when we had a downwind leg
- We finished as a team
I hope to see you out on the road, be it organizational change or riding your bike into the wind. Good luck, and let me know if you need someone to help pull on the next ride.