Understanding the nature of change in the workplace
Continuous improvement means change. Change means ‘making or becoming different’; you are either introducing something new, or altering something that already exists and this often means you are leaving your comfort zone. You may be used to doing things a certain way for specific reasons, and when this changes you tend to resist, saying ‘but we’ve always done it this way and it works fine’. But do you really understand how, or why, the changes have come about? Change, if implemented thoughtfully, can be a positive thing.
Reasons for change within the workplace
Although changes are mostly caused by influences outside of a business it can, in fact, also be subjected to internal motivators.
Internal change is motivated by:
the need for, or the introduction of, new operational systems
expansion of the product or service line
the need to review current processes that are no longer productive
setting of new goals and strategies
expansion into new markets
the addition of new major accounts & customers
change in the office – new furniture, equipment change of location – and so on.
External change is motivated by:
competitors, who may have made positive changes to their procedures or improved their product or services that now impact on your business in a negative way.
the introduction or identification of recent legislation that will mean a major change in the way you market or distribute your products or services. For example, some years ago the government introduced new legislation with very strict guidelines on the advertising and packaging of tobacco products; making it mandatory to print health warning labels on all tobacco products and restricting how these products could be promoted and advertised.
market trends are shifting. For example, people are now much more health conscious than ever before. This has had an enormous impact on a range of businesses.
Many changes, then, are forced upon a business due to these external influences. If these are anticipated, researched and acted upon before they have a negative impact on the business, then any changes you make as a result of your research means you are being proactive and puts you in control of the change process.
If, however, these changes were not anticipated, researched and acted upon then the organisation is merely making a change because they have to, or because everyone else is doing it and this is reactive.
Reacting to a market driven change (after the fact) is a negative way of doing business and can be costly and stressful as it usually allows no time for re-tooling, communicating with customers and staff, or maintaining any real control over the process.
What does all this have to do with continuous improvement?
Continuous improvement is about regularly reviewing current business practices and making necessary changes to things;
that are not working as well as they should
where better methods of working could be initiated.
where changes in the business environment have been anticipated and can, therefore, be proactively addressed
It is about being proactive; anticipating where a change might be either necessary due to external marketing or legislative forces, or advantageous to the business; looking ahead to the future.
Continuous improvement, if done thoughtfully and in a considered manner, can ensure an organisation is always keeping it’s finger on the pulse of the business environment in which it operates and keeping pace with it’s customer needs.
Coordinate continuous improvement
No organisation, large or small, can open its doors on day one and start to do business. Before operations can begin, a great deal of research and preparation needs to take place in order for the business to run smoothly and efficiently. Procedures and policies must be put in place so that the organisation has structure. It is to be hoped that these would be flexible enough to allow for growth and changes in trends.
Flexibility is a key element in the continued success of any business. While a set of policies and procedures are an excellent source of guidance on business operations, they should be flexible enough to allow for changes and improvements when called for. Coordinating, and managing improvements to a business is about a well researched and thought out, step by step approach to introducing something new to the company.
Issues when considering a change include;
Where you are now?
Where do you want to be in the future?
How are you going to get there?
Answers to such questions, and managing change effectively, then, is about thoroughly understanding your business and the industry that it is in. This, among other things, means internal benchmarking and identifying industry best practice approaches.
When looking at a continuous improvement program, benchmarking is the systematic measuring and analysis of the organization’s own products, services or processes against those of the recognized best practitioners in the world. The information collected about your own processes, analysed in comparison to the best-in-class practices, can provide an insight into the actions you could take to improve your own performance.
Four phases are generally involved in a normal benchmarking process; these are planning, analysis, integration and action.
Planning. This is the initial stage of the benchmarking process and involves;
Identifying opportunities and prioritising what is to be benchmarked; you need to be clear on which processes, within the organisation, are critical to the success of the business, and what opportunities are open to you.
Studying the superior process. While this may be the most difficult and time consuming stage, it is also one of the most important ones; you need to take an in-depth look at the processes and procedures followed by the organisation against whom you are comparing your business to. Some of the questions you can ask in the planning phase of a benchmarking effort might include;
What are the key business processes?
Where exactly are the greatest improvement potentials?
What are the functions where improvements are most essential?
Have the criticalsuccess factors for the organization been identified?
Do all processes require benchmarking, or only the most critical?
Has the information about all possible organizations to compare been collected?
Is the method of collecting information systematic?
Will it be possible to access information about a chosen organization’s best-in-class process?
Is the organization’s best-in-class process likely to be innovative?
Are there basic differences in the structure of the process?
How effectively can the process be adapted?
What would be the cost of changing the company’s current process and what resistance can be expected?
What are the potential benefits if the process is modified as per the best-in-class process?
Analysis. At this point the project team will need to analyse the information collected and compare the results to the organisation’s on practices and procedures. Based on this comparison the project team can then develop methods and set goals for the improvement of the organisation’s existing processes.
Integration. This third phase involves communicating the findings of the planning and analysis conducted and gaining acceptance for the proposed changes.
Action. Finally, with acceptance and approval in place the improved processes need to be implemented. This might mean;
Developing an action plan for the implementation and transition process
implementing specific actions and monitoring their progress
Best practice revolves around guidelines, ethics, or ideas that represent the most efficient course of action in a given business situation. They may be established by authorities, such as regulators, self-regulatory organizations, or other industry bodies, or they may be developed internally by the organisation’s management team; serving as a general framework for a variety of situations.
For example, in a business that produces physical products, best practices might outline efficient ways to complete specific tasks to ensure quality and consistency in the production process.
Best practices may also provide guidance on standards of customer service, or outline safety procedures in order to minimize employee injuries.
best practices are the working standards or ethical guidelines that provide the best course(s) of action in a given situation.
companies, regulators, or governing bodies can all set best practices for businesses.
best practices serve as a roadmap for a company on how to do business and provide the best way to deal with problems and issues that arise.
Steps to setting best practices for an organisation include researching the industry and competitors, communicating the standards to all employees, setting metrics, managing change, evaluating and then reviewing and refining the best practices.