Three things you should know about process change

Jeff Cole


You and I have no crystal ball but one thing we can absolutely count on is changes in the coming year. Some changes we’ll see from miles away while others will zip out of left field to surprise us. Some good and some bad. Some changes aimed right at us and other changes we control that are aimed at others – like business process changes. If you are driving any kind of process improvement in your organization, here are three things to keep in mind as you ramp up this year’s efforts:

#1 Employees May Think You Will Self-Destruct

This is vital to know – especially if you are the 'new person' in an organization populated with employees who have been there for a long time – maybe even decades. They won’t tell you this to your face, but when you announce some process change of which you are proud, the tenured employees in the break room may have this discussion: 'I’ve seen guys like this come and go – if we stay in the shadows and don’t do anything , he’ll self-destruct and we won’t have to change.'     

Countermeasures: Learn the history of the organization. How were process improvements handled in the past? Who is important to get on your side in the organization? If process changes failed in the past – learn why so you don’t repeat past mistakes. Communicate how this will be different than before.


#2 We’re Barely in Control Here

Another thing employees may not say to your face is that often they feel they are hanging on by their fingernails trying to keep up with all the changes. Realize that you are very likely not the only person shoveling changes at your target audience. Your new process may be the 14th change they’ve been asked to absorb this month.  

Countermeasures: Implement rudimentary Air Traffic Control. Imagine your organization as a radar screen and the blips on the screen are various changes taking off and landing – some big and slow, others small and fast. Planes can’t all land on the runway at the same time and neither can process changes. You control the timing, content, and location of the changes you are driving. Adjust accordingly to allow a reasonable flow of changes into the organization so people can absorb them in a productive and healthy manner.

#3 Culture Eats Process for Lunch

Culture is the shared beliefs, behaviors, and assumptions in an organization. It is a powerful force – like an invisible raging white-water river flowing through the middle of your office. Launch a change going in the same direction and the culture will embrace and accelerate its implementation. Changes going in the opposite direction often crash and burn, leaving well-intended process teams scratching their heads and staring at the smoking wreckage wondering why their 'slam dunk' process change failed.

Countermeasures: Cultures are not changed overnight.  It has literally taken years in many firms to do so. Understanding the cultural attributes of your organization and designing your process change to go in the same direction and not trying to make more than a 1-2 degree change off course may raise your process adoption and success rate significantly.

Best of luck in your change efforts this year. Now, if you’ll excuse me my dogs are asking for a change of scenery triggered by the presence of what is evidently an especially evil squirrel in my yard. Happy change!