Implementing a process improvement initiative within an organization is an activity fraught with difficulty. On paper it sounds easy. Define the new process, document it, publish it, do some training and voila. In practice, most organizations struggle with the “voila” stage.
Of course the problem comes down to culture change. Culture change is the dark place where deeply entrenched patterns of behavior do battle with the concept of change. Unfortunately, in most cases “entrenched patterns” trumps “concept of change” and the landscape is littered with failed process improvement initiatives. One crusty old curmudgeon I worked with had 4 binders on his shelf that marked the history of the organization’s failed process improvement initiatives. He proudly boasted that none of the binders had ever been opened and the thickness of the dust layer on a binder could be used to date when the initiative occurred.
Overcoming the resistance to change is a major challenge and no single activity is going to overcome the problem. I’ve seen various quality managers come up with different approach, but so far I’ve seen few ideas that have been truly effective. One manager I spoke to about this problem declared that he planned on using the “COE” approach (“condition of employment”); either use the new processes or leave. Sounds simple, but in practice other practical considerations come into play and in this particular example, the manager in question found himself “seeking new opportunities” after having spent 6 months trying to get the organization to adopt “his” new quality program.
The truth is that the “voila” stage is the part of a change initiative that demands the greatest level of attention and planning. Rather than being the wind down stage for a change initiative, it represents the ramp up portion. Changing entrenched patterns of behavior is painfully hard and generally grossly underestimated. Most change initiatives die in the voila stage simply because people don’t recognize that voila is something that doesn’t happen easily and in most organizations doesn’t happen naturally.
So where to start? Well that depends on you, but I can give you one rule of thumb. If you’ve spent less than 90% of your change initiative budget engaging the stakeholders and working on how the changes will be inculcated through the organization, you’re very likely on the wrong track.