“Before making things, you first have to make people.” Toyota

The need for change is a broad and common principle that is supported by every director and manager. Each day organizations are working on continuous change. In spite of all the effort, most organizations fail to succeed and they fall back to the reflex of cost reduction by releasing staff. So, why do companies fail to succeed to realize change?

I am not the first to write an article about this topic. Google the web for it, and dozens of articles give you advice  and steps towards success. So, you download and apply the one that it is most appealing to you. You turn it into a flashing presentation which you present to the board. Impressed by your presentation the board releases some additional resources to execute your plan. You go forward and present your plan to your staff. You might even hire an external consultant to assist you with the change. Initially you see progress. The plan works!

2 Years later. Again you Google the web for a plan that will improve your organization. So, what happened to the previous one? Did that fail or do you fool yourself that things has changed that much, that you need another plan? Changing your organization is not about extensive and expensive plans and implementations. Change is about people. It is about you!

Common pitfall is that management constantly setups new plans and implementations to change the organizations. We go into Lean, 5S, six sigma, balance scorecard, HRM reviews etcetc. The almost obsessive hunger to release all kinds of change plans onto the organization, overloads that same organization. Instead of actual working on changing people, we keep ourself busy with the execution of all kinds of change projects. And not only do we release to many change projects in our organizations. We also tend to over complicate our organizations. More information, more detailed reports, more meetings which never are in time. New hires, change of our organizational chart of which we think that is suites our strategy better.

But, honestly. Did it work? How much did you margin increase as a result of all this? Sure, the world and your market changes all the time, so your glad that you did your project to keep up. Indeed. Keep up. But isn’t the goal of a change project to get ahead of your competition? Yes, I am nagging you. The world isn’t that simple or black and white. But give it a moments thought. Can you actually pinpoint the success rate of your change project and does it last? If you can, you did a great job. But too many cannot.

World Class Performance
Continuous change is not about continuous projects. As Toyota said: “First make people, then make things”. Look at your team and question yourself how your organization or department will function if you would be away for quite some time. Will your employees take initiative to keep on driving your organization and the results? Will they pro actively take actions to correct mistakes and improve the process? Or will your organization / department collapse after some time as it depends too much on your presence and guidance. Did you turn yourself into the indispensable manager?

The base of each world class organization is essentially not the projects they are executing, but the drive of the employees to do a better job each and every day. Even without you being the driver. Those organizations changed there people, or hired the right people on the right places. Change has become an intrinsic value for those employees. It is like breathing. Not something you talk about, but something you do. Each second of the day.

In such organization, employees are continuous looking for and improving the processes they executing. Executing excellent processes is what organizations gives the cutting edge, according Toyota. And you do not need brilliant people tot do so. It is about attitude, not about intelligence.

Change People.
So how do you change people. It starts with you as a manager. Are you a role model? An example to your staff. And do you guide your people on their road of change? Are you willing to keep a low profile if required or do you really like to be a manager that wants to enforce change. An important step for change is the ability of management to let go. To release the organization from the pressure. Yes, that will lead to mistakes. But if you continuous drive, don’t you make mistakes as well? Change is about learning. And the way people learn, is by making mistakes. Then guide your employees to get back on there feet again.

The best processes are simple processes. Reduce the complexity of your organization. Look for the real leverage that drives your business. Extensive reports will not tell your more. It will only confuses you. No matter how well educated you are, your decisions are based on just a few factors. We tend to fool ourself that we can comprehend and process tons of informations. To be simple. Our human brains don’t. They filter, unconsciously, the information and just pick out the essentials. So why would we waist so much time on all these reports and information. Find the essentials in that information and be bold to drive your organization on just that. You will be surprised how well your organization will function. As your environment constant changes, you will never be able to have a full picture and make decisions based on all the information that is available. By the time you reach your conclusion, it is already outdated. So narrow down your focus to what is really important. That does mean that you must be able to accept a certain degree of uncertainty. That uncertainty can be best managed by pro active staff that is able to react flexible and timely to changes.

Reduce the time on meetings. As things become more complex or more people get involved, we increase the number and time on meetings. Again, question yourself what those meetings actually contribute to the success of your organization. Don’t be fooled by the argument that you need to keep people aligned. That is only true to some extend. Allow the organization to build it’s informal culture and communication lines. The informal lines work often quite faster and more effective then your formal meetings. Indeed, you will be not fully in control then. But you will never be in full control. And why should you? If you want your people to be employees that take initiative, act proactive and correct mistakes and improve processes, you should give way for them to develop in such manner. Constant meetings and controls will only block that change. Be less of a manager and more of a coach to your people.

Improve the quality of your processes by keep it simple so it becomes much easier to take out the mistakes. Complex processes become uncontrollable and need a lot of effort to be maintained and for that reason, become quite expensive. Also keep the organization as simple and flat as possible. Some organizational charts look like complex puzzles which take quite a study. Imagine whether your workfloor would understand. They need too! If they don’t, you have some work to do.

Knowing yourself.
Probably the most important step. How well do you know yourself. How does your environment react to you? Do your employees step gladly into your office and ask for your advice on the problems they encounter or do you have to squeeze the information out of them? In the last case, your in trouble. Don’t fall into the reflex that it is their fault. That they don’t function well. How well do you function? Do you apply the right management role? And are you at that time the right manager, being at the right position? How many manager dare to state that they are the ones that are out of place, instead of blaming their staff?

Are you really that open and approachable. Just leaving your door physically open, doesn’t make a difference. For your employees to step into your office, depends on your attitude. Understand that people still perceive a threshold when they need to speak to their manager. No matter how friendly and open you are. It is an unconscious reflex of people.

It might be better that you start reading books of neurologists and psychologists instead of the standard management books. Are you aware of the discussion in these areas about the conscious and [the possible lack] free will of people? Management books wont give you the deeper insight how people think, act or are shaped. And having this kind of knowledge is essential to ‘make’ your people. To make change happen. And as you go on that journey about learning about people, you will find that it is your own journey as well.