Even some of the best managers seem to be comfortable with lower productivity when starting new ventures, such as building a new location, creating a new department, developing a new type of software program, or executing a major project.
Poor people processes and poor implementation structures, rather than the belief that “we are going to have poor results because we are starting something new”, lead to poor results.
To illustrate this, let me share a recent scenario. A dear old friend of mine was having stomach problems. He thought it was because he was getting old. At 86, that seems like a logical reason; after all, the body does break down. But what if the reason was wrong? What if is it not about age at all or, at least, not mostly? It turns out that after an assessment from a naturopath and a simple regimen followed with discipline, his stomach issues vanished almost completely.
The same principle applies to almost all new scenarios. You have heard it before:
“We are starting a new plant, so we will have bad production while we get the bugs worked out.”
“This department’s first efforts to do R&D are going to have many problems as they sort out how to do things.”
“The first few months after we implement Oracle, expect delays as we fix the problems learned at go-live.”
“This merger will take quite some time to iron out the details.”
All of the above scenarios have a few things in common. One, they are real. Two, they can be, mostly, avoided.
What? Avoided? How?
They can be avoided in several ways:
If you set a low bar, you will get low results. Set the bar higher, but then follow it up with a well thought-out, well-resourced, and calmly driven strategy.
2.People process strategy
Understand the difference between operation at startup and operation at maturity and put in place people processes that ensure quick identification and resolution of emerging issues.
3.Effective temporary governing body
Create an appropriate, simple decision process utilizing the leaders over the areas where the new startup is happening. Use it to make quick decisions about emerging issues that impact the employees who must change or do things differently.
4.Manage the ramp-up
Make sure there is an effective process in place to raise and resolve emerging issues as quickly as possible in all areas that will be impacted. That means thinking forward to what will be, and using an effective process with the people who will have to interact with or use the new item. It is not good enough only to focus on a project team, or the technical solutions. Rather, also teach all aspects of what is new to the employees who will have to use it. Do this prior to them having to use it on a daily basis and with ample time to fix issues.
By doing so, you will learn and understand the potential issues that will happen when the employees start using it, and be prepared to apply quick solutions when the issues actually surface. In the software industry, these are your end users, but in all other projects, new mergers, or new creations there are always internal customers who will have to use the items being created. So think about who they are and include them. It is not rocket science, yet that type of inclusion rarely happens.
5.Align the managers over the areas that must work with or use the new thing
This is not a one-time information session; rather, it requires an ongoing people process. What do they need to know? Certainly, they need to know when, what, and how the roll-out will happen. But don’t get confused here. It is what you need to learn that matters. Yes…You! You need to learn how to work with them; you need to learn which issues will likely emerge; you need to learn what the specific needs of the employees are; and, ironically, you need to understand that this knowledge comes slowly through your education of them. That education cannot happen by experimenting on the first day of production, the R&D project, or software implementation. Rather, it should happen in gradual steps in preparation for the first day.
6.Communication and understanding calm the amygdala
The amygdala is the small almond-shaped part of your limbic brain that is responsible for fear. During change it is on high alert. This is not just some touchy-feely voodoo; it is real and confirmed by the latest neuroscience. So expect fear and do not overreact to it. Also, the amygdala is calmed by conversations and understanding. If you hold on so tightly to any data until you know everything, then you add unneeded stress to your organization. Instead, communicate as often as you can, and then listen, learn, and appropriately respond to what you are hearing.
Do not accept that you will have poor results because it is new. Instead, utilize the following concepts and create a strategy that significantly changes the way you start new things:
– SPA: Single point of accountability on all mission-critical tasks or roles.
– By when: Clear dates for completing of tasks, and the expectation of communication if they slip.
– Follow-up process: Ongoing check-in to make sure actions and commitments are being completed and that they are solving the original problem as intended.
– Feedback process during ramp-up phase: Use a feedback process with the users of the product, process, or where the machine or new item will be implemented to raise emerging issues and concerns. Chart them visually and solve the majority of them quickly and efficiently.
– Effective governance: Use a decision process that balances the needs of end users, managers of the end users and key business leaders with those of the project team.
– Alignment of managers: Create and conduct a process to align and significantly involve or inform all managers over areas impacted.
– Alignment of cross-functions: Align, clarify, and ensure input from and communication with all cross-functional support groups.
– Effective resource management: Ensure the right and sufficient resources are available at startup and the time of implementation and that they remain until stability of business results is achieved. If you are a large corporation and you allow a plant to start up without a large amount of technical help, then you are managing too passively. Reduce the number of technical resources to normal levels when you reach stability in processes or accept that you are willing to have poor business results. Do not start up a plant with the same level of resources as a mature plant and expect it to operate normally.
– Decision clarity: Balance manager authority and employee influence and avoid any movement toward an extreme such as consensus.
– Start up the process: Check in daily on what is working and not working and solve emerging issues rapidly.
Of course, every situation is different, but the nuts and bolts of what you need are stated above. Do you think the above list sounds easy? Think again. One reason so many tasks and actions fail is that you must have the personal authority and ability to impose a structure that is effective, and then stay constantly on top of it until it is working successfully. This is not a one-time shot: it is about follow-up, appropriate feedback (positive and negative), being open to suggestions, and making minor tweaks until it is up and running well.
Plus, in order to save a lot of money at the beginning of new things, you must spend more money. The trick is to be smart about it and not short-sighted. Implementation competency is a skill that is sorely lacking in most organizations. Most get much more excited about new ideas than actually focusing on any effective means of implementation. Don’t lose that excitement, but gain a better understanding, focus, and enthusiasm for how to implement.
After all, how much would Boeing have earned if they had reduced the startup problems of the Dream Liner by half? Maybe that sounds lofty, yet surely some reduction could have been achieved. One problem that successful businesses face is that they make so much money because of their position in the market that they can afford to be ineffective in their implementation competency. What is remembered are the sales after implementation, not the prolonged problems because of poor people and system processes. In fact, many blame departments, new processes, etc. for things rather than having the courage to look at themselves and their ability to align around change, and to put in place effective implementation practices.
Many companies accept poor numbers at startups, mergers, software implementations, new R&D departments, projects etc. Instead, put in place effective implementation practices and keep adjusting them until you achieve results. If you set bold outcome goals and follow through with effective implementation practices, you can significantly improve upon the poor expectations and numbers that many take for granted in new situations. Once you do that, you will gain a significant competitive advantage.
Chris Crosby is an International Organization Development (OD) practitioner, educator, author, and thought leader, and the President and Business Owner of Crosby & Associates, a family-run consultancy with unique expertise in leadership and organization development.
Their methods for balancing management authority and employee influence in organizations, honed since the 1950s, consistently improve engagement, morale, and bottom-line results.
For more details, please, visit his personal website chrispcrosby.com.