All About the Approach: Facilitating Lasting Changes
In my previous post, I explained how building strong client relationships makes the project process easier and increases overall success. As a company, we pride ourselves on our ability to integrate into our clients’ organizations, find the right solution, and leave them with the capability to continue improving after our project is complete. Part of this comes from our client-centric mentality and constant efforts to be a positive force for our clients. This can at times be difficult for both sides, as it involves a change process that many people are naturally uncomfortable with. The discomfort occurs especially when employees are perfectly content with their positions within the organization. It also involves a large amount of patience from our team. We must explain the process, allow it to sink in, and continue to reinforce all of the main points. Often times a client may develop their own view of the intent of a Management Operating System (MOS) and it is important for our team to remain calm, stay focused, and continue to work with the client to repeatedly direct their attention towards the valuable output of an MOS.
Listening and Understanding
Our first task at every project is understanding our client’s issues, perceived limitations, and goals. We strive to learn their working style, culture, and comfort level. It is during this initial stage of the relationship that we can quickly lay the foundation for success or failure. The quicker we are able to learn our client’s likes and dislikes about their job, the more time we have to build upon that later. This can sometimes be a balancing act between providing impact at a focused level or at an organization level. We recently ran into an example of this at a logistics site office. A site director could not understand why the specific changes he requested were not being completed immediately and were not on the top of the priority list. When dealing with such a decentralized organization, communication and coordination of changes in the management system must be consolidated. This process can sometimes take more time and energy than the client is initially prepared for. The communication of this at the beginning of the engagement is very important so that the client can be prepared for the project as well.
Uncovering Opportunities Together
After we understand the issues, we move forward in discovering the solution, keeping in mind all that we have learned about our clients so far. Their acceptance is important, so we make sure we adequately explain what we plan to do and how we plan to do it. This can be difficult as it requires a certain degree of finesse. It is important that our clients design the answer and we simply facilitate. It is not a game of who is smarter, but rather a training process to view issues as opportunities. We believe that permanent change must always come from within. We will often work through the brainstorming process several times on our own before working through it with a client. This is especially important for the problems that the client feels cannot be solved. One of the first steps we took at a recent project was to train the office staff on identifying issues within the process they were using. This may seem like a straight forward task however, it can be extremely difficult when a “work around” or broken process is part of your day-to-day routine. We worked one-on-one with the office staff to help them review their individual processes by having them decide if each activity is value added or non-value added. We also asked them if they thought there might be a better method of doing each specific activity. Once they began to make this distinction, true exception time (office non-value added time) can be measured and quantified. You can really surprise a client when you help them solve a problem that they truly believed was just the “nature of the business”. One of my first posts described in detail the Root Cause Analysis process; this same process can be applied to any issue or problem, and with the right expertise in the room, will often uncover some interesting solutions to the main issue. While working through this process one client remarked that, “We would never be able to get rid of this problem. It would always occur as it is part of our business.” He was entirely accurate in his statement. However, what if 60% of the issue could be reduced? The business essential 40% would remain, but the capacity from a 60% reduction in major office issues would open up, leaving plenty of room for growth.
Making the Real Change
The implementation of our proposed solutions can be the most challenging phase of a project in regards to our client relationship. Often, this is where other firms will stop and leave the most difficult portion of the change process up to the client. This is the most powerful stage in the process, as it can merit our client’s infinite trust or make us seem like we’re “all talk”. When we actually start changing the way things are done, we are met with more questions and contentions. An immediate overnight change is very unlikely, as real change is a process that takes energy and problem solving. Our clients realize that we have not just shown up with the answer, we’ve begun to provide them with the tools to expose the answer. It is common to experience a significant amount of push-back from direct managers. This is in large part due to the proximity they have with their employees and their day-to-day understanding of their own KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators). At a recent project, one of the managers was questioning the difference between having the numbers on paper coming directly from day-to-day operations and having them in his head from speaking with his people throughout the day. A comment was made that he knew the business and the reports would only confirm what he already knew. There are several issues with having all of this information in one person’s head. Firstly, if he was sick or on vacation there would need to be a suitable replacement that could decipher the same information. In addition, on a day-to-day detailed basis, management may have a good general sense of the state of the business; however, they typically can’t speak to a weekly trend, monthly trend, or correlations between various KPIs. We need to think about the future. What will the requirements be when the business grows? What happens when there is a shift in management reporting structure? What is the true cost of doing business? If all of these questions can be answered accurately, the management team will be ready for growth. If not, they may be able to maintain and sustain, but will have a large degree of difficulty when it comes to change and growth.
Training for Sustainability
After the changes are implemented, we invest time in training the client team to sustain and continue improving their processes. By transferring the ownership over these improvements to their people, we ensure our solutions last. We know as soon as we get to this phase whether or not our client truly understands that value of what we have put in place at their organization. If they understand this, they will gladly take over any and all responsibilities as they will be receiving 100% credit for positive change and have been given to tools to drive it. This is an excellent final gauge to understand if your implementation was initially successful. If you sense hesitation on the client’s part at this point in time, you must quickly identify the frustration source and review the intent with the client. At this point in the process, the client should be seeing the value and wanting more. With each significant change they are getting closer and closer to perfect.
At the End
Our projects are only complete when we are confident that our client is able to sustain the changes we have implemented. By understanding their issues, working with their people, and providing adequate support and training, we know we are leaving our clients in a better place with the tools necessary to succeed. We leave behind a management team prepared to take on the challenges of the business equipped with the tools to do so. This is our commitment to each and every client.