Why is change so difficult, even when we can all agree that something needs to change?
Imagine working for a company that creates and sells technology to combat some of the toughest obstacles in business. Now imagine sitting with the customers and listening to them speak about their struggles, discussing customer expectations, and debating what they can do to meet the needs of the customer, their organization, and our planet. As a “solution provider,” you may think you have all the answers – that helping them accomplish every goal is simple. “You have a problem; we have a solution,” you might say before proceeding to tell them all about your technology’s capabilities and your team’s experience in similar situations. By the end of the conversation, everyone may feel confident that things will get better soon – that there’s a solid plan in place to meet everyone’s needs. And that’s why so many companies struggle, or completely fail, to achieve their goals.
Life would be great if it were as easy as ideating a solution – coming up with a “business improvement” strategy and plan to follow through across the entire organization. But it’s not. Most business issues expand into your broader eco-system and impact your partners, suppliers and, sometimes, customers. So, whatever plan you have to tackle those issues will likely require their acceptance and cooperation, too. Change is not just an inside job.
Unfortunately, what you might find is not everyone is as ready as you may be to make changes. In fact, we see this all the time when working with our customers to drive improvements in their operations.
Recently a team of Zebra employees were discussing opportunities with track and trace technology and noted how the new RFID tagging mandates of some retailers aren’t sitting well with farmers and food producers. Their customers and retail partners are wanting more information than ever before about the source of that food, how it was produced and handled, and the quality control measures used to protect consumer safety. They also want to help drive sustainability in the food industry and overall improvements in the supply chain, but that’s only possible if food items can be more effectively tracked and traced from farm or factory to fork. While the technology may exist to support these retail customer and partner needs, it doesn’t mean that everyone across that value chain is ready or willing to participate in the change required to meet these needs. There’s a cost to food producers that they may not be in a position to absorb. There are also changes required to their processes and systems, which require time, resources and retraining of employees. So, when retailers tell their suppliers that they must put RFID tags on every item or bin, it’s important that they commit to outside-in change management.
Likewise, any change you’re looking to make will only be possible with others’ participation. So, let’s talk about how you can get your partners, suppliers, customers, and other stakeholders to accept your research and requirements as a benefit versus a burden – for them, not just you.
What Outside-In Change Management Initiatives Might Look Like for Your Organization
Being change resistant can come down to many things and is a natural reaction of being human. It’s known that one of the top reasons for project failure is lack of change management. Therefore, many organizations today are investing in change management to varying degrees to help support the changes in their organizations and help their people succeed. But when it comes to changes that impact outside the organization, how does this even work?
Change management is much more than sending a memo telling someone what you need them to do or simply stating what is changing – or, in our example, issuing a new mandate requiring suppliers to follow new guidelines. If you want to be successful in your change, you must offer the right support to help others through the transition. There are many different philosophies you can follow for change management, but they all boil down to the same themes:
Creating awareness of the change.
Understanding the desire, or lack-thereof, for change.
Helping others to understand why the change is needed.
Fostering the change by ensuring those who need to support the change have the right skills and tools to be successful with the change.
Oh, and you can’t forget about reinforcement.
To elaborate further, we were recently talking to one of our solution teams about a sustainability project and learned the customer’s supply chain partners were tearing data loggers off packaging and throwing them away so the customer could not see what was happening. While the customer had sustainability goals they were trying to meet, the partner knew, or at least assumed, if the customer got the data, they would ask them to make changes.
Do you think the situation could have produced better results if change management principles had been applied to them? Do you think the supplier fully understood the impact their request had on their partners? Could the supplier have offered to help the partners better understand the importance of the supply chain performance analysis and subsequent changes, not just for them but also the Supplier? Could they have considered helping to contribute resources, training, or incentives that would relieve some of the burden on the partner to support the change?
You have to remember that whether working with your employees internally, or partners externally, we are all human and change resistance is natural.
Because no change management was applied in this situation, the investment the supplier had made in data loggers (for other performance tracking and reporting reasons) was literally being ripped off and thrown in the trash. So, the next time you’re looking to make changes and need the support of any external stakeholders, I encourage you to put a change management strategy together that focuses on this external group to help you achieve the desired benefits.
If you need help mapping your outside-in change management strategy and tactics, talk to your solution providers, partners and suppliers – those working with you to drive change and those most impacted by the changes. Assemble a team to:
Identify internal and external stakeholders.
Identify your goals, and make sure they align to your corporate goals. What needs to change and why?
Identify obstacles. What’s going to be required to make the change happen? Can you identify reasons people wouldn’t want to support it? How will the change be received?
Develop a good communication strategy. You need to bring people on the journey.
Make sure you’re investing in developing a good training strategy and if possible, have multiple delivery methods. Not everyone learns the same and not everyone may have the skills/abilities to effectively support the change.
Develop a support structure. Resistance is natural. Help others practically and emotionally adjust to the changes happening.
Make sure you can measure these things. Are your business results seeing the impact of the change?
You may also want to enlist the help of a third-party Professional Services team that specializes in change management. These consultants can ensure all voices all heard, all concerns addressed, and all potential risks considered and mitigated – to include resistance inside and outside your organization.