Three Ways Change Impacts the Front Line

Jeff Cole

Those of us following operational excellence methods find ourselves driving process change on a routine basis. Sometimes it is good to step back and consider how this impacts those on the front line. This month, columnist Jeff Cole shares three ways your front line workers are impacted by change.

Change is an elusive beast. All of us are affected by it and few really master the methods needed to stay truly efficient in the face of change.

Process improvements drive positive change, but many professionals neglect to calculate the hidden costs of such change. When a change happens, productivity tends to drop as people try to assimilate the change. It stays at a lower level until the dust settles on the change and people have adopted it. At that time, productivity can rise to its new, higher level.

However, the time spent in the valley of low productivity can amount to a huge hidden cost to many firms. It’s especially important to consider customer-facing front line employees regarding this effect as customer service can be impacted. That potentially leads to a very visible revenue stream impact as well.

How exactly are the front line employees impacted in ways that keep you in the valley of low productivity longer than necessary?

Front Line Impact #1: Time

Many changes take time, plus emotional and mental resources to absorb. One mistake often made is underestimating the amount of time their front line workers may need to become proficient in a complex change. Don’t necessarily assume that sitting through one demo or a slideshow will magically make those workers perfectly follow the new process.

Consider methods such as simulation-based training and placing them into mock scenarios where the process works perfectly and also encounters difficulties. Plan on a trial adjustment period and allow for extra mentoring or help for the workers during the adjustment. Consider error-proofing devices and simple job aids to speed up employee assimilation time.

Front Line Impact #2: Morale

Trying to throw too much change at once at the workforce can be a morale killer. Regarding customer-facing employees, it is very difficult to delight customers using employees whose morale is in the basement. Consider timing and phasing in changes so as to not overwhelm the front line workers. They may experience frustration with the new process, perhaps a feeling of lack of control, and general fear, uncertainty, and doubt. All of these can not only impact their morale, but your bottom line as well.

Communicate the changes in advance, position them as simply and non-threateningly as possible, and involve the front-line workers in developing the change. That sense of ownership can go a long way toward ensuring morale doesn’t crater on rollout.

Front Line Impact #3: Confusion

Workers may wonder why the change is being implemented and what it means to them. Some want to know how the people will be impacted. Others want to know the big picture. Some may want to know the logic behind the change. Still others may just want the details on how to do it the new way. Talk to the employees in advance to understand their issues.

As mentioned before, communicating in advance and lowering the envisioned "threat potential" of the change is always a good practice. Try to anticipate and answer in advance as many of their potential questions as possible to reduce the fog of confusion that often surrounds change.

As you prepare your next change, consider the impact it will have on front line workers, involve them throughout, and seek to minimize the impact it will have on them. They are the human glue that keeps customer service alive in your organization.

If there are any gaps or glitches in your process change, they will have to "throw themselves on that grenade" to keep it from impacting your customers! They deserve to be front most in your mind as you develop your rollout.