Why do attempts to ‘improve’ the design of work in our organisations frequently end badly?
I’ve been thinking about this for a while now, and there are a set of common factors that always repeat which lead to the predictable failed outcome of change efforts. These things are not sector-specific, instead of in Manufacturing and in Service sectors, these ‘traits’ will inevitably result in failure for the organisation and the individuals involved in the process of change.
- Ownership by senior leaders
The first thing that points towards’ predictable failure are the people driving the change, often leadership are ‘too busy’ to surrender the time to the business of change, instead, they nominate an individual or team to the task of delivering change.
By this simple act, they’ve just told the rest of the business that business, as usual, is acceptable, thus undermining the change process before it even gets started. By not changing their behaviours towards work and not owning the change process, in particular, makes other leaders and staff in the business in a position of power believe that ‘it will pass, it’s just another fad…’. It is therefore both the politics of work and hierarchy that need to be challenged from the outset.
- Measuring the wrong things
The second reason why change fails is a little more technical, but to put it bluntly, we are what we measure in business.
Many organisations deploy a change in work design successfully but then leave in place the same old measures in the workplace. This means we are choosing not to measure the things that matter to service users instead.
The difficulty here is with the fact that the decision making that accompanied the traditional measures, which in turn lead to the requirement for change in the first place, will steadily weave themselves back through the new design of work. And as if by magic, this will result in reverting to the working practices of old. This might sound crazy, but it only takes 18 months to 2 years before the business is back where it started.
- Designing the wrong interventions
And lastly, the third top reason for improvement failure is the design of the intervention in the first place. Whilst all change methodologies follow the same basic thread, get knowledge, decide on better ways of working, implement and make normal, organisations need to have exquisite clarity around the ‘how’ the change will happen.
The assumption within organisations is that any leader can make change happen, and to an extent that is true, however, what is really required is the use the correct methodology for the problem to be solved.
A lean manufacturing expert is a dangerous animal in a service environment, for they see similar patterns to those in manufacturing and try to solve the problems in the same way as manufacturing. The resulting pain for both the change agent and the business is not pleasant.
So, what can we learn from this article? To make change happen requires the right level of leadership driving the change, to keep the change going requires better measures than are traditional in business and lastly, knowledge of appropriate methodologies of change will lead to a blended approach to make the change possible and sustainable in your organisation.
We are Lean Consulting and we help service organisations and the service aspects of the manufacturing business improve their service whilst cutting the cost to deliver service.