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Influencing change to support a new PLM (is easier than you think)

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In their third guest article for WhichPLM, Manner Solutions explores change leadership to support PLM. Here, Nicole Cunningham, Co-Founder & Principal, shares her thoughts on where to begin, the challenges and how to overcome them. Manner Solutions provides clients with strategic business process efficiencies, database applications and specialized change management counsel for apparel businesses.

Have you heard these words before? ”I know that we need to put some change management efforts in place to ensure the success of this PLM program, but let’s wait until we are a bit further along in the process.” Or perhaps, “my resources are fully allocated to the implementation of the PLM; as soon as they are freed up we will get around to messaging it out to the team closer to the roll-out.”

While we encourage our clients to plan ahead and begin the change management process from the onset, more often than not we’ve see organizations waiting a bit longer than they should to be most effective in leading successful change within their organization.

For all the focus on change management, historically, it still remains a challenge for many. John Kotter, the Godfather of Change Management, in his 1996 HBS Leading Change survey, found that only 30% of change programs succeed. McKinsey’s 2008 survey confirmed a similar outlook with only 1 in 3 transformation efforts succeeding. A more recent Willis Towers Watson survey found that only 25% of transformation initiatives were successful over the long term, and there are countless other surveys indicating similar results.

While no one wants to fail, successful change is challenging for organizations as it usually comes down to time, the amount of effort that is put into the program, and using resources wisely. With a great approach, thoughtful planning and a realistic timeline, leading change can be easier than you think.

So what is the best approach to take to ensure a successful PLM transformation within your organization? While it varies by company, there are a few basics that can help in setting you on the right path. Below you find a few of the best practices that we have put into place to ensure more positive results for our clients.

Know the effects that change can have on your employees

Science has found that our brain is programmed to avoid change so, as leaders, we must manage and communicate change with our employees in the best possible manner. Most of our day-to-day activity is hardwired into the section of the brain called the basal ganglia. Repetitive tasks and daily habits aren’t given much conscious thought, as this is the way that we have always done things. These tasks feel comfortable, right and good.

When change to this day-to-day activity comes along, it can serve as a jolt to the brain stimulating the impulse and insight control section of the brain called the Prefrontal Cortex. When overwhelmed with complex and unfamiliar concepts the prefrontal cortex kicks the amygdala, know as the fear center, into high gear and we automatically go on the defensive into the flight or fight mode. This kind of activity, if not managed correctly, can manifest itself as anxiety, fear, anger, sadness and even fatigue.

Start at the top 

Employees will be looking at the C-suite for clear direction on the vision, goals, benefits and timelines for the change program. Having a consistent executive presence to communicate with employees throughout the journey provides a sense of awareness and creates engagement. Although this leader will surely discuss the end state, it is important for this leader to set the tone and pace for the interim approach and deliverables that will ultimately get the team there.

Invite your employees to be part of the change from the onset

In addition to having an executive sponsor that is a willing and able spokesperson, one of the more collaborative approaches to embedding change throughout the organization is to assemble a cross functional team of rising high performers that can serve both as additional communication leads and as listeners.

With representation from each functional area, you have not only ambassadors to help in informing and enrolling members of your organization in the change, but you gain valuable insight into which functional areas may need more support in adopting the change by listening and responding to them. Quite often, leaders need to take pause and learn what information is most important to their team by listening versus messaging the information that they might think is important for the team to know.

Communicate both from the “top down” and the “bottom up”

Having both an executive leader that can message the benefits, goals and progress towards the new PLM system, along with a team of cross functional partners to also champion these messages, minimizes many communication gaps. The goal of this dual communication is to inform employees, enroll them in the process and gather valuable feedback to help keep the program on track.

Developing a communication matrix that highlights the key messages, intent, audience and timing to help in managing this process is key. Whenever possible, we encourage our clients to have multiple communication points, including a dedicated space that shows a visual timeline of the process along with key accomplishments and how the team is tracking to their next set of deliverables. The team will be hungry for information and this type of transparency provides a comfort level for team members that they can interact with on their own terms.

Know your audiences by monitoring the team’s energy investment

Employees are predisposed to embracing change given their prior work experiences that ultimately inform their current behaviors. Understanding the attitude and employee efforts as you are managing through the change is quite important and will allow you to course correct any outliers. Claude Lineberry outlines the four types of audiences that exist within most teams in his Energy Investment Model:

  • Spectators – they endorse change but take minimal action to make it happen
  • Cynics – skeptical of the change and the first ones to say, “I told you so” if change doesn’t happen quickly enough
  • Victims/Walking Dead – feel powerless when it comes to change and do as little as possible, hoping that the change will go away
  • Players – have a positive attitude and not only do their jobs but want to make things work even better.

While we all hope to have mainly players on our team, from time to time even we might find the members of the cross-functional team drifting between these audience segments. Monitoring your group’s adoption of the new process throughout the change implementation is helpful and can prevent the spread of any negative feelings within the group. Identifying the Cynics and Victims and working with them in small groups or one-on-one sessions will help in keeping the change on course and garnering further adoption.

Test measure and refine as you go along

In some instances what is good in theory, may not be quite so good in practice. Along the way, from beta through implementation, ask employees for their feedback on how the PLM tool is working for them and what could be done to improve its use. By listening to the team, prioritizing the asks and incorporating their changes where possible, adoption and the transition to the future state will be more readily embraced as a whole.

Keep a positive attitude and be honest

In nearly all cases, you get what you give. Walk the walk, talk the talk and see the energy and support multiply throughout the team. From the executive suite to the cross-functional team, presenting a positive attitude at all times – both in and out of the project spotlight – is necessary. In times in which things might not go as planned, be open and share with your team what is being done to right the ship and how they can help with the solution.

While driving change and getting the end results may be appear to be a daunting task for some, leaders that focus on the basics of a well-crafted plan and pay close attention to shifting the employee mindset will increase their likelihood of a successful change program.

Lydia Hanson Lydia Hanson has been part of the WhichPLM team for over four years now. She has a creative and media background, and is responsible for maintaining and updating our website content, liaising with advertisers, working on special projects like the Annual Review, and more.Joining mid-2013 as our Online Editor, she has since become WhichPLM’s Editor. In addition to taking on writing and interviewing responsibilities, Lydia has also become the primary point of contact for news, events, features and other aspects of our ever-growing online content library and tools.

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