Organizational Change Manager’s Anxiety with Production Improvement—Part 1*

We know that employees become anxious under the threat of a change. Did you know that managers may also be anxious when introducing a change? This anxiety can lead to actions that actually block the change.

Let’s look at a company having production quality problems. Yields are low and customers have been complaining or returning products. The production manager (PM) is concerned that the company might fail if production is not improved significantly…and soon. What can he do?

He knows production and believes that certain changes in the production processes can correct the problem. But he also knows that the needed changes are likely to make his employees uncomfortable.

He has read much about introducing change and how to help employees deal with change; do it right and they help make it a success. The books recommend showing the employees that they are valued: get their help, get their ideas, and give them some control over what happens to them. That is, give them some power over their fate.

The PM must give some of his power to his employees!

But remember that the PM has a lot at stake here. What if he can’t make the change work? What if the change he introduces does not provide the needed improvements? The company is already hurting; if the changes do not correct the problem, his own job may be on the line.

He thinks “I better keep tight control over everything.” The last thing an anxious manager will do is give up any of his power! And yet, that is exactly what must be done.

To deal with this, the PM simply must “bite the bullet.” Use the employees’ knowledge and skills, get their ideas to find the best way to improve production, and get their help to make it happen. And accept that he will be uncomfortable.

It’s the best chance he has to make the changes succeed.

Still, the PM must still do something reduce his anxiety. This fear is actually likely to increase as he follows the steps above! For all of this to work, the PM will need to find ways to trust his employees. He must also trust that he is capable of picking up the pieces when things don’t go as expected. One way to do this is to hold regular meetings to review the status while not “holding the reins” too tightly and micromanaging the group. Here, again, the PM can work with the employees to help decide together how to best keep him informed so that he is able to see that things are moving well…while staying sane.

More on that coming soon.

Don’t want to wait? Then go to http://leadchangewithoutfear.com/ and check the tab “Successful Real Change.”

* Adapted from Lead Change without Fear by Paul Schnitzler

Organizational Change—The Problem

Introducing change into an organization is often difficult. Notes in this space, below and in the future, will discuss how the change manager can have troubles and how to handle them. As a start, consider this case:

A contract engineering company was not winning as many bids as it had last year. The president believed the engineers were not using modern bidding methods. He blamed this on the use of a standard spreadsheet program to create their bids. He was very worried so he bought an expensive proposal development program and directed the engineers to use it.

A year later, the engineers were taking longer to write bids and still were not winning more contracts! Gradually the engineers surreptitiously moved back to their spreadsheet approach because the new program simply could not do things that they needed. Eventually the president agreed to allow the engineers to go back to the older methods.

What went wrong?

The president never asked the engineers what they thought caused the problem.

He did not ask for their help in solving it.

He did not help them see that fixing the problem would be good for them as well as the company.

He believed that he knew what had to be done and so never tried to learn about the actual needs. Instead, by installing the new software, he created additional work for the engineers, did not actually solve the real problems, and, in the process, made his employees feel very anxious. None of that helped the company.

This is one example of how a needed change can fail. Did you know that change fails over 70 percent of the time? That need not be the case.

Going back to the president’s action: If he spoke with the engineers he would have learned what was getting in the way of creating good proposals; employees often know more about the workings of a system than the manager. The engineers might have suggested solutions to the difficulties; they work with the situation and are familiar with available tools and approaches. Finally, the engineers would have felt involved and would have wanted to help make the changes work.

The president didn’t want the engineers to think that he did not know what to do. In his fear, he lost the opportunity to increase the company’s internal capabilities as well as win more contracts.

As a leader, remember that you do not have to know everything. Your employees can help you be more effective and in turn they will feel more valued. That builds a strong, successful organization.

Do you want to know more about introducing change? Watch this space for the next installment.

Don’t want to wait? Then go to http://leadchangewithoutfear.com/ and check the tab “Successful Real Change.”  Or contact Paul at pauls@usf.edu.

This appeared in the IEEE Florida West Coast Section magazine, the Suncoast Signal.

In the meantime, check out the book at the left.