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Restoring Competitive Edge through Operational Excellence

Blog: Changefirst Blog

By Audra Proctor, Head of Learning & Development, Changefirst

Recently, in the course of my work with some of our global client organizations, I’ve encountered at least three major Operational Excellence (OPEX)/LEAN initiatives being deployed. In all cases these have been wide-reaching and highly disruptive to people because of the behaviour shifts required from leaders and employees alike. This has led me to reflect a little on the significance of these types of initiatives for organizations looking to reclaim business agility, which is so vital to their continued success.

There’s a lot out there about LEAN, but I have struggled to find a consistent definition of OPEX which probably goes some to explaining why the planning and execution of these initiatives can be so complicated. The given wisdom though, is that modern approaches to OPEX have evolved from an understanding of lean production and are generally regarded as part of a continuous improvement culture. What I take from this is that OPEX programs cannot be viewed as stand-alone initiatives, but rather they require constant vigilance, diagnosis, assessment and agile decision making about whether to stay as you are, or to pivot.

Making the right decision is one thing, but we’re no closer to responding effectively to fast-moving, competitive, and often disruptive markets if we cannot execute these decisions effectively. If there was ever a case for greater alignment between OPEX/LEAN and Change Management, this is it:

For me, the term ‘major change’ has two meanings:

1. To be able to execute strategic initiatives with speed and precision – compared with a legacy of half executed and sunk cost projects which only alienate people, resulting in lost productivity and ultimately additional costs.

2. To create an organizational mind-set that supports the effective implementation of strategic change, with ease of access to role-based knowledge, skills, process and tools up, down and across an organization – compared to a legacy of generic leadership development with only a small number of OD specialists receiving change management training.

So, what does greater alignment look like?

Integrating people-centred measures as early indicators
Long before we are able to determine new processes and financial benefits there are some early indicators we can look at to suggest if things are working or not. These early indicators are namely; levels of resistance, engagement, acceptance and commitment. Putting the words ‘people and measurement’ in the same sentence is still met with skepticism, but once we start measuring it we can analyse enablers and risks, taking mid-course actions as an integrated part of a deployment plan. You can read more about this in our research paper, ‘The Power of Data: Report 2′.

Download The Power of Data: Report 2

Focused leadership
This comes from those who are the custodians of a continuous improvement culture; focused on driving and tracking a consistent process of:
Challenging the status quo – by leaders expressing their dissatisfaction with the current state and requesting data to help them get a better understanding of people impact and scope.
Easing the transition – by leaders being more consistent in their public and private communications; networking with colleagues and engaging informal influencers to strengthen support for change; encouraging open discussion about change concerns and issues and actively tracking change progress.
Reinforcing the new future state – with celebration of early wins; appropriate rewards to reinforce progress and role modelling new behaviors. This is as relevant to executives as it is to local managers because of the consistency that needed between “say” and “do”, for already overwhelmed people to start taking major organizational change seriously. You can read more about focused leadership in our whitepaper ‘Leaders of the Revolution’.

Download Leaders of the Revolution

Ramp up engagement
To increase engagement quickly, it helps to start with what I like to call, ‘The Philly Sandwich’, or middle-managers who are usually the meat in the middle. The connection between the change and those driving change those with responsibility for execution in their local areas can be very weak if managers are uncertain about their own future. To combat this this:
1. Diagnose readiness and likely adoption issues with middle managers first
2. Leverage middle manager knowledge to help tailor change messages for local relevance
3. Involve middle-managers in building local deployment plans for them and their teams, which also include actions to build people’s commitment and manage their resistance to change
4. Provide middle managers with the skills and tools they need to manage change effectively

Integrated learning
Integrating change management skills, processes and tools into the OPEX/LEAN frameworks and teaching them together so that leaders and key stakeholders up, down and across the organization understand their relationship:
1. OPEX to decide what needs to be done differently (tweaked, shifted or transformed) to restore competitive advantage
2. Change Management for how to plan and execute the tweak, shift or transformation in a way that engages people and sustains their commitment to new ways of working.

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