Change management demystified

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‘Change management’ often crops up when a company is considering implementing a supply chain planning system. Two quite common assumptions are that:
– Employees necessarily resist change.
– Change management is so mysterious that it’s best left to ‘change management experts’.

I beg to disagree.

Hundreds of supply chain planning implementations have led me to realize that a) most employees are open to change, and b) a pragmatic approach to change management can be very effective.

Here are four practical change management tips that significantly improve your chances of a successful ‘go live’.

Tip 1: Be very clear about what needs to change
Most people are receptive to change – if it’s a change for the better. Your task is to make the reason for any change crystal clear by explaining exactly what you would like to improve, and why.

For example, if you’re implementing a supply chain planning system because inventory levels are too high, well then, your task is simple. Employees need to hear that inventory levels are too high and need to come down.

Who should communicate this? I think we can all agree that it needs to come from senior management. They need to communicate what the goals are, why those goals are important, and why using the system will improve the relevant KPIs. Without this commitment from senior management, people may not accept the fact that certain KPIs need to improve.

Tip 2: Make sure planners can see exactly how their planning decisions affect KPIs
This is crucial. If planners can’t see the connection between their planning decisions and the KPIs you hope to improve, it’s almost impossible to convince them to abandon old, less effective ways of working. This has nothing to do with ‘resistance’. It’s just unreasonable to expect planners to change their behaviour without showing them how their actions affect the relevant KPIs and what they can do to achieve better results.

For this to happen, you need two things. First, the planning system itself should make the connection between the behaviour of the people who use the system and those KPIs absolutely clear. In other words, the system should provide planners with immediate feedback about how their decisions affect the relevant KPIs – before those planners actually implement the decision. This kind of instant feedback could be in the form of a KPI dial or graph; the main point being that the information needs to be available immediately and should be easily understood.

Second – and just as importantly – you need change agents. Which brings me to my third tip.

Tip 3: Appoint change agents
During the project, and especially during the pilot or testing phase, select a few of your best planners as your change agents. These are people who are already involved in the project and who will be responsible for coaching their colleagues.

I’m not talking about technical experts or programmers. A change agent could be a senior planner or even a well-qualified junior planner with a couple of years at the company, who’s up for the challenge. What’s important is that they’re willing to take on the role and have the necessary credibility with their colleagues to make a success of it.

These change agents will come alongside their fellow planners and plan with them. They’re there to talk planners through the steps and help planners make that all important connection between their planning actions and the company’s KPIs.

While change agents will spend most of their time with their colleagues, they may also be called upon to assist others who are affected by the new system. For example, those who execute the schedules on the production floor may, perhaps, wonder why setting times are increasing on certain machines. The change agent can help production understand why their schedules look different and how the changes are helping improve KPIs.

Tip 4: Don’t overload your change agents with tasks that can be delegated or outsourced
Change agents are the drivers of a successful supply chain planning implementation. They speak the language of their colleagues and can help them gain an enthusiastic appreciation of how their planning decisions affect the organization’s goals.

The problem of course is that change agents are among your top planners. Once the system goes live, they’re going to be run off their feet. Besides doing their own job as planners, they’ll also be coaching others.

To avoid overloading your change agents, delegate supporting tasks such as the creation of new manuals and training material to others. Keep your change agents focused on ensuring that the new processes work, by making people aware of:
– Why the new system is needed
– How the changed processes work
– How the system supports those changes

Arjen Heeres

About Arjen Heeres

There are few things in life that give me more satisfaction than uncovering hidden optimization potential. My interest in this intersection between business and technology began at university where I researched the application of intelligent technologies to business problems, and earned a master’s in management science from the University of Groningen. I’ve been the COO of Quintiq since 2000, and have helped countless businesses in all kinds of industries realize their optimization potential. What a privilege!