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Hearts and Minds

By John P. Collins, CFPIM, CSCP, and Eric P. Jack, PhD, CFPIM, CSCP | July/August 2014 | 24 | 4

Make it personal to make lasting change

Operations management has diverse and far-reaching applications. University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban applies operations management principles to improve the team’s processes. Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, uses operations management principles to better execute his business strategy. And Tesla Motors CEO and chief product architect Elon Musk has a vision, which operations management helps make reality.

When aiming to start a company, grow a company, or fix a company—taking a business from point A to point B (hopefully a better place)—the supreme challenge is motivating followers to embrace the need for organizational change. “How do we make it stick?” and “What can the management team do to ensure the effort will last?” are very common questions. Change management gurus provide a list of things that need to happen in order to be successful:

  • Have a clear vision.
  • Involve people.
  • Ensure management is committed.
  • Move quickly and show improvement rapidly.

Some even say “burn the camp”—completely eliminate the old rules so there’s no way to go back. But the one thing that is most important—the foundation, the cornerstone that makes change management work—is to make it personal. Making it personal means that every employee finds an answer to his or her own question of “What’s in it for me?”

Staying connected

A 400-employee plant had been around for a long time, with some people having more than 30 years on the job. In desperate need of change, the operation was mired in a lethargic “this is the way we’ve always done it” attitude. It became necessary to have the workforce buy in to a new direction and vision for the company.

In a conversation with a particularly resistant employee, he was asked, “Have you ever had a vision?” When he said that he hadn’t, he was then asked if he owned his own home. In fact, he did and was quite proud of it, having saved for years to be able to afford it. He described how he and his wife had sacrificed in a number of ways before purchasing their house on the side of a mountain with a nearby a stream where he liked to fish.

It dawned on him that his vision had led to him owning the home of his dreams and that his employment had helped make it possible. It became personal to him for the company to succeed so he could continue to enjoy his dream home and that fishing stream. Once he experienced this, the changes necessary to ensure the company’s success were made with his full support.

The lesson here is simple: We operations management leaders sometimes forget the very important feelings and thoughts of our employees and thus fail to incorporate them into what we do every day. Are you guilty of this oversight?

John P. Collins, CFPIM, CSCP, is president of Sustainable Solutions. He may be contacted at jcollins@ssi-spm.com

Eric P. Jack, PhD, CFPIM, CSCP, is dean of the School of Business at the University of Alabama–Birmingham. He may be contacted at ejack@uab.edu.

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