Thursday, February 21, 2013

How to Plan Business Performance Change, Part 2

Executive Summary:
We don’t successfully drive business performance change just because we reorganize and declare some management objectives.  We change performance by changing behavior.  Consider several important elements that influence behavior while drawing up your behavior-change plans.

The Rest of the Story:
In Part 1 of this post thread, we discussed a number of arguments for why our business performance only changes when our fundamental behavior changes.  Specifically, we must address the way we respond to challenges or stress, our decision-making habits, how we address and solve problems, and our general daily conduct.

Unfortunately, the various business performance improvement programs such as Lean or Six Sigma, just to drop a pair of names, and the consultants that introduce them to us, don’t really address how to plan the behavioral change throughout our organization that will enable these programs and systems to truly succeed.  Much more than training, some new metrics, and reorganization is necessary.

For this part of the discussion, let’s look specifically at some of the cultural and business elements that influence behavior.  These elements must be included in a plan that specifically addresses changing behavior.

Here is a short list of the elements to discuss.  They will seem fairly obvious at first glance, but I dredged this list out of a pile of notes concerning the failures and roadblocks that I have fought to correct or remove in my own change-driving experience.  In other words, even though they are obvious, or because they are obvious and we take them for granted, we fail to address these elements in our change efforts.  This list includes the most commonly recurring themes.
  • Model Desired Behavior
  • Training
  • Coaching and Mentoring
  • System Alignment and Configuration
  • Traditions and Beliefs
  • Environment

It is important to point out that when we discuss behavior we are ultimately addressing our business culture.  The elements listed above are like ingredients in a stew.  Most stews will have common ingredients, but every chef’s blend and recipe will be different.  Use the list herein as a starting place.  Give some thought to your organization’s own unique needs and cultural flavor to completely flesh out your plan for behavioral change.

Model Desired Behavior
Perhaps the most important element to set your change up for success is for your leaders to model the behavior you want to drive.  I’m amazed at how often this need fails to manifest.  More than once, I’ve been involved in an initiative to install Six Sigma into a business organization and the management teams were the last organizational elements to be infused, rather than the first.

If the leaders are either too busy or too resistant to attend training and start speaking the language, how should we expect everyone else to be motivated to buy into the change?  How well will that change actually manifest if the leaders don’t understand what everyone else is talking about or trying to do?  Can people behave differently if their leaders are still stuck in the old ways?  Of course not.  Still, it happens frequently.

Leaders must be the first to adopt the new ways, not the last.   Leaders must both push and pull the new behaviors through the organization.  If the leaders don’t demand it, it won’t seem important.  If the leaders aren’t doing it themselves, it won’t be important or practical. 

To change the behavior of our people, the change must seem both inevitable and possible.  It must be easier to change than to remain the same.  It becomes easier to change, even desirable to do so, and harder to resist if the organization’s leaders have already made the change and demonstrate it daily.

One final thought regarding modeling the desired behavior.  The word “leader” is not limited to those people in management or leadership authority.  “Leaders” are those people in the organization that others go to for advice and support.  They may be senior engineers, unflappable project managers, or the new college graduate with infectious optimism and a surplus of enthusiasm.

By all means, start your change with your management, particularly the executive management, but also start with the other leaders in your organization.  When the leaders adopt the new behaviors and methods, everyone else will follow.  If your leaders become part of the resistance, your change is doomed.

Many times, when we endeavor to introduce new behaviors, new guidelines aren’t enough; we also need new skills.  This is especially true if we are introducing one of the popular programs such as Six Sigma, Lean, Outcome Driven Innovation, Axiomatic Design, Value Engineering, SMED or any of a long list of program names.  Sometimes too there are concepts or new language we want to introduce.

As you plan your change, make a list of the new skills, concepts, or terms that your personnel will need to learn.  Make a plan for how to introduce the new skills, ideas, and language to your personnel.  Be sure too that your training goes a step further than typical. 

As part of your training, include some demonstrations and expectations of the new behaviors that accompany the new skills.  Don’t just introduce the new terms and skills or tools and think that your training is done.  Model and demonstrate how and when you expect those new tools and skills are to be used.  Use your training to establish expectations as well as introduce new methods.

Coaching and Mentoring
Remember this.  Training is necessary, but it is not a solution.  Training doesn’t make a person skilled; practice does.  Also, training doesn’t make us automatically want to do things differently.  We must follow our training with coaching and mentoring, and we must push and pull the use of the new tools and methods until they become habit.

The biggest mistake that occurs most frequently is that organizations and change leaders train personnel and think that because people are trained they will now do things differently.  It doesn’t happen that way. 

Make a plan for how your leaders, who are of course modeling the correct behavior, are going to coach and mentor their teams and personnel through the indoctrination of the new way.  Make each leader establish his or her own plan for how he or she will do so.  The leaders should be able to quickly and clearly articulate their plans.

Actively discourage an unwillingness to participate, but don’t discourage or punish mistakes.  When we are learning, we make mistakes.  We learn better when we make mistakes and analyze them.  No one will want to try something new if they are afraid of making mistakes while on the learning curve.

Accept that mistakes will happen; coach people through them.  Mentor people through their first few tries.  Focus on establishing the behavior more so than results.  The results will manifest if the behavior changes.

System Alignment and Configuration
Whether we mean them to or not, our systems often inspire or even dictate behavior.  Sometimes we work around the systems that don’t cooperate.  Sometimes we feel trapped in a particular sequence of steps because the system dictates that things must happen that way.

Consider what systems, policies, processes, machines, software, or logistical chains will be engaged by your new way.  The unfortunate answer is probably, “all of them.”  Spend some time investigating them with the user experts of those various systems and determine if they are configured to work with your new behaviors.  If they are not, make changes.

It can be tedious and seemingly unrewarding to dig into your various systems in such a way, but when software or policy stand in the way of behaviors you are trying to drive it can be not only frustrating for you as a change agent, but also for those people trying to meet your expectations.  It can be crippling to allow a system or policy to roadblock progress.

Traditions and Beliefs
Traditions or beliefs are not something we generally think about when discussing our businesses.  Especially in western corporate business culture, we prefer to assume that everything is about the numbers and logical associations.  Our organizations are made up of people, however, and every organization has it’s own flavor or culture, which is comprised of common behavior established by tradition and belief.

Addressing tradition and belief takes some careful consideration and long thought in my experience.  Break down you plan for addressing them into three parts.
  1. What traditions, habits, or beliefs do you need to get away from?
  2. What traditions, habits, or beliefs do you need to keep?
  3. What new traditions, habits, or beliefs must you install?

Change means that some of the things we currently do, we must stop doing.  Identify these things.  Put words to the beliefs that drive them so that you can recognize when the cause for the old ways is inspiring resistance.  Make a plan for the old ways to go away peacefully.

Try not to challenge or refute existing beliefs.  Belief systems do not need proof to inspire devotion; they only need faith.  When we challenge beliefs we tend to inspire people to dig in and fight harder to maintain those beliefs.   Instead of saying that old beliefs are wrong, suggest that a new belief might enable additional success.  Offer new beliefs instead of challenging old ones wherever possible.

Some beliefs and traditions are good and you want them to remain.  For example, your family-owned business might have some well-established family-focused values that you do not want to damage.  Identify the habits and traditions that define your strengths and that you want to protect or maintain.

Identify the beliefs and values that drive those habits and traditions.  Make plans to reinforce those beliefs and values as you go through your change.  Make plans to ensure that the important-to-preserve traditions are continued and exercised. 

The best way to ensure that your change doesn’t inadvertently dissolve important cultural elements that define your business is to plan for the protection and perpetuation of those elements.  Don’t let them be sacrificed by accident.

As we set expectations for new behaviors, consider the beliefs upon which those behaviors are based.  Design traditions that will reinforce expectations and inspire good habits.  New traditions might include reward and recognition or otherwise display the success or benefits of your new business methodology.

We often just assume that our environment will change as our business and behaviors change.  The assumption alone implies a link between environment and behavior and our intuition about that link is not wrong.  If there is a link, then why should we not use it to help drive the behavior change?

Environment can be significantly influential.  Sometimes environmental influence can be closely tied to the systems considerations mentioned above.  Consider the following.
  • If your new focus is to encourage intimate, focused teams to drive rapid problem solving, do you have enough meeting rooms or workspaces for these teams to meet and synergize? 
  • If your new focus is on efficiency and single-task resource planning, is your environment conducive to such, or is it noisy and full of distractions?
  • If you are trying to drive creativity and innovation, is your work environment inspirational, or is it sterile and dull?

Consider how your work environment does or does not fit the new behaviors and methodologies that you driving.  Consider the messages on the walls, the arrangement of personnel, lighting, colors, noise levels, access to important systems, equipment, people, or interactions between groups. 

Make plans to proactively adapt your environment to your new change.  Not only will it positively influence the change, it will communicate an additional message of devotion and dedication to the new way.

When you lay out your plans for a business change, be sure to establish purposeful plans for driving behavioral.  At a minimum, include elements of leadership modeling behavior, training, coaching and mentoring, system alignment, traditions, beliefs, and environment in those plans.

If you take the time to work with your leaders to include these elements in your plans for business behavioral change, you will address many of the failures and roadblocks that prevent so many other organizations from successfully installing the programs they expect to improve business performance.  It is well worth the extra planning to address these common sources of change failure and instead use them to drive success.

In Part 3 of this post thread, we’ll discuss a framework for mapping and articulating your change plans.  It can also be used to track progress and monitor the change as it occurs.

Stay wise, friends.


  1. Very good article. I think we have all run into some of these challenges, but it is a brave step to come out and say it in a public forum.

  2. First of all, its a nice post. I just want to give a suggestion, that if someone is finding difficulties in managing the business, then its better to reduce some overhead work, like call answering, addressing people etc. And leave them on professionals, it will definitely help in managing some work.

  3. for beginners like me need a lot of reading and searching for information on various blogs. and articles that you share a very nice and inspires me .