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Eight Workable Strategies for Creating Lean Government

Lean Government. Even to the seasoned Lean practitioner, the idea of a Lean government sounds far-fetched. Governments are traditionally seen as the epitome of bureaucracy, and the guardians of red tape, incomprehensible forms and endless queues. But there are workable Lean strategies for governments seeking to reduce waste and become more efficient. Eight are outlined here.

Perhaps considering the eight ideas can spur government change agents to study Lean literature for potential improvement applications and in the longer run, start a Lean revolution in governments.

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Finding The Right Star

Identifying knowledge and skill set of a candidate is rather easy. Finding the right mind-set is a more difficult task. Using a set of value and competency-based interview questions enables managers to spot the STAR, the person who does not only bring the required aptitude but also “fits” in the organisation.

Nuts and Bolts of Project Selection

The art and science of project selection for improvement projects is one that most organisations take rather seriously. Some companies in a variety of industries have developed highly sophisticated methods for project screening and selection to ensure that the projects they choose offer the best promise of success.

Even without having such kind of method at hand, it is necessary and possible to screen projects before embarking on them. Some common sense questions may help:

1. Why is This Project Worth Doing?

Project Selection is not a Result of Gambling

Project Selection is not a Result of Gambling

Every project must have a crystal clear business case. The first reason for this is that the project needs support by not only the sponsor but also other stakeholders in order to be successful. This support can be ‘organised’ by deriving the compelling need for this project from Customer Satisfaction, Financial Benefits or Employee Engagement reinforced by rock solid data. The positive side effect of having this kind of business case is that the team will likely be more motivated to spend their extra time on this kind of effort.

Pareto charts are powerful management tools to explain business case and therefore support project selection. Do not forget to have financial calculations be signed off by the experts.

2. Why is it Important to do This Project Now?

A business case that shows a growing backlog, a decrease in customer satisfaction or employee engagement over time is a compelling reason for doing this project now. If, in contrast, the situation has been getting better over time, i.e. the backlog is melting away as a result of other initiatives, it is much harder to justify this project. Then the question really is: Can we not sit by and wait for the problem to resolve itself?

A simple time series plot may help to understand the history and even to forecast the future.

3. What are the Consequences of not Doing This Project?

Sitting by and waiting will not be a good idea if the problem might grow in future. Knowing the current state well is a prerequisite. And, having a more than rough appraisal of the future demand as well as the expected changes in the industry will enable some good assumptions that help to heighten the need for the said project. These assumptions may be used to create a basic simulation to generate credible data before project selection.

The resulting scenario, well presented to the management, will certainly generate support for your project idea.

4. Which Activities Could Disguise Your Project Results?

No organisation has only one initiative or project running at any given point in time. Usually, there are plenty of overlapping activities changing the business environment on a larger or smaller scale every day. Such activities may have affected historical data why it is not always wise to use a long data window for deriving the business case without ensuring that the tackled process was more or less undisturbed. Such activities may as well confound with your project work in future. If you already know that there will be unrelated changes that will affect your process, make sure you have a chance to see which process change triggers what change in the result. Without that, you may get improvements but you do not know why.

Ensuring a very close-loop, data-driven cause-effect-chain for all activities will help untangling the coils. Based on that, the project selection has more foundation.

5. How Does it Fit With Business Objectives and Targets?

If the business case is important enough, related KPI’s will be on some managers’ scorecards. These managers will be supporting this project naturally since it drives their targets and hence the business objectives. In case the suggested project is targeting on improving something that is not someone’s KPI or is not even measured yet, two situations can occur:

Firstly, the project idea may not be a good idea after all.

Or secondly, it is certainly a good idea and it needs to be made a KPI as soon as possible. Then, it should  appear on the management dashboard frequently.

All project proposals should be linkable to the organisation’s or departmental dashboards, hence must have someone with ‘skin in the game’ who is likely the project sponsor.

Conclusion

Starting projects ill-prepared is much worse than not starting at all. Failures in project selection usually lead to frustration amongst team members and confusion within the organisation. It will make your initiative a nonstarter if this happens at the beginning. Time well spent in selecting projects saves a multitude of that time later.

Choose the right projects to maximise your organisation’s performance to the benefit of customers and employees.

 

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Everyday Innovation

“iPhone, Google, Samsung Mobile Phones and other products” are usually mentioned when it comes to innovation. It seems that innovation is strongly connected to new products everyone can see and even experience. The talk about Process Innovation is rather limited or left to the “process specialists”.

Lean Six Sigma and Innovation

Over the last decade, companies and organisations in nearly every industry all over the world have introduced Lean Six Sigma to increase customer satisfaction and to deliver impressive results. An outstanding example is General Electric, the company who has made Six Sigma as popular as it is today.

Another term that has drawn tremendous attention in the business world is Innovation. On the one hand, Lean Six Sigma works towards very low variation in processes with high efficiency. Innovation, on the other hand, seeks to find undiscovered, uncertain territory. Such efforts are rather inefficient. Innovation requires risk-taking, making mistakes and learning from failures.

Can a corporate culture be developed on both key thinking patterns in order to get the best out of Lean Six Sigma Efficiency and Innovative Solutions? Does it make sense to think Innovation Six Sigma?

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Job Redesign

Job redesign is about redesigning the tasks in a job so that it fits staff and business needs. For instance, tasks that can be done in isolation can be assigned to a telecommuter, duplicate tasks may be eliminated. One full-time job may become appropriate for two part-timers. Two employees may split a job, but work independently of each other.

Seven Habits … – Habit 3: Drive Continuous Improvement

Working with management teams of our clients often takes them away from their business for a few days. They frequently get in touch with their teams at home. Sometimes I involuntarily eavesdrop their part of the conversation. “How is it going? Is everything ok?” is a very common question they ask their teams. When they get some kind of “yes” they feel much better.

Continuous Improvement Needs to be a HabitMy old professor at the university, we called him Ho, had the habit of having tea with the whole team of his assistants in the morning whenever he was around. I cannot say that these sessions were my favourite pastime. Yet, I have to say that these sessions had been a great learning experience. Ho would never ask a question like “Is everything ok?” Instead, his preferred question was “What are your issues? What is new?”

Not knowing the context of his enquiry, I once replied somehow like “No issues. Everything is ok.” For him this was a very cheap answer and Ho countered immediately “So, you don’t have issues. It either means you don’t work or you don’t change anything; you did not try anything new since we met last time. The day you stop improving what you do and how you do it is the day you start falling behind.”

The day you stop improving what you do and how you do it is the day you start falling behind.

Besides the request for continuous improvement and change his question implied that he did expect problems. Ho encouraged us and indirectly sanctioned issues and mistakes. He made the continuous search for better ways part of our business life. Ho never blamed someone if something went wrong. Instead, he expected us to name the issue, own it and suggest a solution. The worst crime one could commit in business life was the crime of not trying to get better every day.

Conclusion

Continuous improvement does not start with massive Lean Six Sigma or Innovation initiatives. To the contrary, continuous improvement needs to be part of the DNA of an organisation if you want to ensure that your aforementioned initiative is successful and lasting. Here are some simple tips that will help incorporating the habit of continuous improvement into the normal business life:

  • Ask for the change, not for the status quo. A question like “What have you improved since last month?” repeated during your business update will help sending the right signal. Over time you will get good answers.
  • Tolerate issues. Ask for solution ideas instead of searching for culprits. This will remove fear of failure that cannot be avoided in a dynamic environment. Discussing these with the whole team can be a great learning experience for everyone … after initial hesitation.
  • Enrich your set of KPI’s by upgrading the often under-represented Balanced Scorecard section Learning & Growth with some powerful short-term indicators. The KPI “one suggestion per year” does not help moulding an innovation culture. Encourage by incentives rather than procedures. You will get what you measure.

 

Seven Habits … – Habit 4: Focus on the Process

When was the last time you reprimanded someone for a job not done perfectly. I guess you can remember easily. And, when did you tell someone that she did an excellent job? If you have issues answering the second question whereas the first one comes to you easily, I suggest you go on reading.

Poka Yokae - Mistake Proof Processes

No one makes mistakes on purpose

So, you have no problem in finding people who are not as good as you are? This is a very common phenomenon amongst us, the managers, that is contributed to many factors.

Factor one: Sometimes, we think the way we do things is the best way and we refuse to accept considering other ways. The bad news is: we may have given up learning. We are not open for suggestions any more. No matter whether we are 30 or 60 years old, the world changes. The day we have given up looking for new developments and accepting some of them, we have started falling behind – at least in our leadership qualities.

Factor two: Often, we find that our team members are not as brilliant as we are. Isn’t it fair then to consider that we may have failed in our staff development responsibilities? And, if we stubbornly conclude they cannot be developed? Wouldn’t this mean, we may have recruited the wrong staff in the first place? And our succession planning must be in a bad shape, too.

Factor three: From time to time, we reprimand people who obviously make mistakes. Fair enough. Still, is there a small, teeny, tiny chance that we have not communicated our expectations clearly? Have we moulded them into policies and procedures so that we don’t need to repeat them every day again and again? Most importantly: if errors happen, our processes allow them to happen, right? Then, our processes are not Poka Yoke.

We don’t have team members who spend their time thinking how they can mess up our organisation and make us unhappy, do we? From time to time, it may look like that but it is usually not the case. Most of them do their best. They most likely try to anticipate the one thing they can do we may finally like – and we prompt with a smile.

The truth is, that our organisation, especially our processes, be it for recruitment, for performance management and for all other business activities are not good enough for delivering what we want. This is basically our responsibility.

Changing the way processes run is easier than trying to engineer our colleagues. Moreover, transforming a “people issue” into a “process problem” puts people at ease.

With Poka Yoke, we would find

Conclusion

No one delivers defective parts, wrong information or even typos in emails intentionally. It is usually our processes that allow and sometimes even enforce mistakes to happen. If we were able to help our staff in improving and simplifying our processes, they would do their job in good quality. Investing some trust usually pays back. Trust me!

The best processes are simple, robust and Poka Yoke.

Six Sigma In The Bloodstream

One day I was asked why I left the stable, “money-printing” ISO 9000 business to join the riskier Six Sigma environment. My explanation went something like this: “Well, I think it makes more sense to implement a real business improvement and management system than to hang a nice certificate in the CEO’s office.”

But is this statement really true? Does starting a Six Sigma initiative automatically mean you’ll have an effective Quality management system? Definitely not. The downside of this methodology is that there are currently no “standards”, nor an “official” certifying institution. There is no external body that checks whether everyone walks the talk.

Six Sigma is more than starting a few projects, training some Belts and educating some business leaders about what it all means. The Six Sigma criteria depend on the business implementing this approach.

The Criteria

Generally, Six Sigma criteria are not comparable to the ISO 9000 but to the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award criteria or the European Quality Award criteria. These Quality management system descriptions exceed the historical thinking of “Quality Management Systems” enormously. Companies that have won either the European or the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award have learned that successful Quality management encompasses business management tools including leadership, strategic planning, customer and market focus, information and analysis, human resource focus, process management and results orientation.

Six Sigma aims to pursue the same target: “Completely Satisfying Customer Needs Profitably!” (Jack Welch). Therefore the criteria of a successful Six Sigma system are similar to the Baldrige criteria. One major difference seems to be that Baldridge shows just the shell of targets within those criteria whereas Six Sigma also describes a proven box of powerful tools and a rigid way to apply them.

The trick is how to plant this concept into an organisation. Here are some steps that most companies pursuing Six Sigma must go through:

Phase 1: Enthusiasm & Awareness

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Firstly, the Leadership team of the organisation decides to go for Six Sigma. They dream of increasing its net income with huge savings, continuing to portray the image of an outstanding company and increasing customer satisfaction and loyalty, with doubts of whether these concepts will actually work. Normally the implementation of Six Sigma starts with Leadership awareness training and a couple of improvement projects. When they choose their first projects, the company either shows its Six Sigma competence by selecting business related projects within the leadership team or demonstrates the old-fashioned Quality way by delegating the task to their Black Belts or a “Quality team”.

This phase also includes the first Black Belt/Green Belt trainings. If the projects only focus on manufacturing areas, the company will limit themselves to the playground of traditional Quality improvement initiatives. Instead, it makes sense to think cross functionally and recognize improvement opportunities in all key business processes.

Phase 2: Seeking Results

Secondly, it is critical for the Leadership team to pass the first tollgate: Are they tracking results from their first projects or are they losing interest? Successful organisations install a steering committee – often called a “Quality Council” – to make decisions about projects, especially about tying their selection to business strategy and customer needs, implementing improvements, and reward and recognition.

If the leadership team shows that they don’t care, then Black Belts will not be able to produce results. And if the Black Belts do not produce results, then the leadership team will lose interest. It becomes a vicious cycle. The trigger must come from top management.

Results also need to be communicated to the entire company. It is critical to sell Six Sigma internally and convince the sceptics. Otherwise, the company will not be ready for the next phase.

Phase 3: Implementing Measures

Thirdly, results from the first projects usually include a few measures that track the results and ensure that the improvement lasts. Successful companies do add these measures to their internal dashboard and customer loyalty tracking system. Some even share those results with their customers, which builds trust.

Customer satisfaction measures are key for project selection. Unfortunately, they are not always available or used. Scorecards (comparable with Balanced Scorecards) should be implemented to tie Six Sigma implementation to the reward & recognition system and the bonus system to drive business results in terms of process improvement, customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction and net income. This kind of scorecard contains deployment and result measures.

Phase 4: Implementing Six Sigma As BAU

Finally, to build Six Sigma into the “business as usual”, all departments should be involved. Six Sigma includes a powerful tool set. This can help to improve all key business processes – including administrative processes – throughout the organisation. Additionally, there are a few key departments who need to support the Six Sigma initiative. Finance should track the costs and the benefits. Marketing/sales should gather the voice of the customer and track customer satisfaction levels. IT should support certain projects with their technical competence. And, HR must support Black Belt and Green Belt selection and development. They should include it into reward and recognition, and track and analyse employee satisfaction.

By this phase, project selection is no longer driven by the Quality leader or business leader. Individual process owners use Six Sigma to achieve their own business goals. Therefore, they dedicate resources to the effort and gain the results.

Six Sigma In The Bloodstream

Consequentially, you will know when Six Sigma is in the bloodstream of your organisation, when it will no longer be necessary to talk incessantly about it. Then, it will be part of the culture. This is probably one of the major differences between earlier improvement efforts such as TQ and Six Sigma. There will be no need to get startled by the call of the ISO 9000 auditor asking for the date of the re-certification. Six Sigma is a different mindset. There will rather be a kind of a regular internal evaluation by the leadership team assessing the status of their own management system – comparable with EFQ assessment.

Six Sigma means

  • Incorporating customer requirements into business processes,
  • Integrating business management skills into each element of the organisation effectively,
  • Analysing causes of process and output variation with statistical and non-statistical tools systematically,
  • Instilling people with the ability to get involved, and initiate, their own improvement projects cross-functional and company-wide,
  • Tracking performance honestly over time.

Leadership’s role is critical, especially at the outset, because leaders communicate and reinforce the power Six Sigma has to achieve business objectives. Without buy-in from leadership, it simply will not work. It must be reinforced from high and adopted from each internal level and process area. When done well, Six Sigma has the ability to create a truly customer focused workforce – and organisation.

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Complaints – The Tip of the Iceberg

“Voice of the Customer” – VOC in short – is a key topic in all kind of customer service, TQM or Lean Six Sigma training and related project work. There are two main categories for VOC data, reactive and proactive. Firstly, proactive data is collected with methods like focus groups, interviews, observations, surveys or test customers. Secondly, reactive data is mainly based on customer complaints, feedback, hotline data or warranty claims. The nature of the human being restricts itself almost always to negative comments through reactive data channels.

Value Complaints - They Carry Valuable Information About Your Processes

Value Complaints – They Carry Valuable Information About Your Processes

Proactive versus Reactive Feedback

Asking staff working in customer service departments about the nature of the feedback they receive from customers will result in answers like “No-one calls to tell us how good we are in delivering our service. Most of the calls – that are not questions – are more or less strong complaints.” On the one hand, this sounds frustrating, “not fair”. On the other hand, “negative feedback” is very powerful due to the fact that someone takes the time and tells us what goes wrong in our processes, hence shows us opportunities for getting better, for getting more competitive, for growing. The quality of this kind of information is usually much better than the feedback received via proactive channels like surveys due to the fact that respondents of surveys do usually not have a stake in the issue.

How do YOU feed back?
Reactive
The other day in Singapore, I had a small complaint about an SBS bus driver who did not really respect me cycling my way on the road. After getting home I took some time to recap what happened and wrote a very detailed letter to SBS to explain the situation.
Proactive
After I spent some days in a hotel in Batam, I received a survey form I needed to fill in before leaving the hotel. Did I fill it in? Make a guess…

The Value of Complaints

Customer research studies in the German financial industry some years ago have shown, that complaints normally reveal only the “tip of the iceberg”. Receiving 50 complaint letters means we get only the feedback from those people who take the time and the courage to complain. Hence, there might be about 1250 customers out there who experience a similar situation but do not complain. May be they go immediately to our competitor if they have a chance. We may never find out. Furthermore, the research has shown that there might be as much as 10 times more negative contact points with our company – like “Your call is important to us. Please stay on the line.” These negative incidents are not “big enough” for a complaint but always impactful enough to drive customers’ decision sooner or later.

Conclusion

Welcome complaints! As long as you get complaints someone is interested in your service and wants to help you improving. Behind each complaint you can expect as much as 25 times the situation that has led to the complaint and as much as 250 negative “Moments of Truth” with your company. Use this valuable and powerful information for taking actions. And, give positive feedback, too!

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Seven Habits … – Habit 2: Moment of Truth

The Moment of Truth is the short time frame when a customer experiences the product or service that many people have prepared often over many months. It is the moment when a small, often unintentional mishap has the huge potential to spoil the result of hard work by others in the organisation behind the scenes. Good process managers know this and put their focus on the Moment of Truth.

The Moment of Truth

The Moment of Truth

When Jack Welch explained his view on management he used to draw a company structure against the common understanding upside down. His explanation went somehow like that:

Who is the most important person for our company? It is our customer. Consequentially, the people who make or break every day’s business are the people who interact most with our customer, our front line staff. The crucial job of the lower management is to make sure their team members at the customer interface have everything they need in order to serve, to impress and to delight the customer. Every level of management has to support their team members with this purpose. My job is to ensure everyone in my company is able and willing to do his best for this objective.

For many of us this is not really new. However, the number of managers – call them process managers – who really go to Gemba for experiencing the Moment of Truth is marginal.

Is it not enough to ask your staff what is going on at the ground level, what happens at the moment of truth? Well, it would if they knew. And, it is a very normal human tendency that information gets “filtered” when it is passed from hand to hand, from level to level. Often there is a factor of guesswork added to the information.

What We Know About the Moment of Truth

Only an hour after running a very simple role-playing process simulation, the 20 managers involved in the process are asked to state the time spent on their own process steps. They merely have to guesstimate the duration for their direct involvement – a non-challenging task, one would assume. To everyone’s surprise the actual time measures more than 300% of the time estimated by the group of managers. Hence, it is not enough to estimate or guess. You need to measure in order to know.

Does this only apply to processes that are new to managers? Not at all. A Lean Six Sigma team’s project focusses on reducing the lead time for treating the customer at a routine service process. During an interim project presentation, the manager who has been directly responsible for that process for many years raised his voice after the team revealed data about the time needed to attend to the customer. He doubted the data; he could not believe that the process took as long as presented. Of cause, the team members were able to show facts… Hence, if you run a process for years, it does not automatically mean you know what happens on the ground. Customers and employees change. And so do processes.

Best Practices

Gemba is the place where your product or service is received and applied. You cannot learn about the Moment of Truth, the usage of your offerings and how well you are able to meet customers’ expectations by conducting an annual survey or by issuing some evaluation forms.

CEOs like American Express’ Kenneth Chenault know about this. He is said to spend time in American Express call centres to pick up calls from customers and listen to their requests. He surely cannot change the customer service level by answering some calls every now and then. However, he walks the talk. As a leader, he knows how important it is to observe and focus on what is critical to customers during the Moment of Truth. And, he expects his employees to “have it in their DNA”.

The former CEO of Singapore’s Alexandra Hospital, Liak Teng Lit, used to host a monthly lunch for a focus group of patients who had just gone through Alexandra’s service. He wanted to hear them out about their experience at the Moment of Truth. This way he learned about hospital processes and how his customers perceive them. Whenever possible, he would look into improving things. .

Conclusion

For managing a process successfully it is essential to know the details about the process. This can only be achieved by a set of carefully crafted instruments put in place:

  1. Make sure your process management is based on meaningful process indicators and real data collected in the right way by people who are taught to do so. Start with the Moment of Truth.
  2. Ensure that this information reaches you without being filtered or otherwise manipulated.
  3. Derive actions based on systematic and comprehensive data analysis following known and accepted rules.
  4. Publish this information in an appropriate manner so that the organisation can learn from it.

And, don’t forget going to Gemba from time to time to observe what happens at the Moment of Truth. The purpose of this is two-fold: Firstly, it helps you getting real information from the ground regularly. Secondly, it sends the right signal to your team members, your colleagues and, last but not least, to your customers.

Moreover, it is very likely that you learn something new about your processes.

What You Measure is What You Get

Developing a compelling vision and mission statement as well as a sound strategy is vital for any organisation. Equally important is the translation of the strategy into the day-to-day business. This step becomes even more critical for multi-national companies with their need for regional adaptation and alignment with corporate at the same time. So, how do we make sure our mid- and long-term plans – developed in the head quarter – make sense to business leaders and employees in other regions?

Managing Volunteers

Olympic Games are unthinkable without the invaluable support of thousands of volunteers. For most organising committees, this fact alone posts a major challenge in preparing and running the games since they often do not have experience in managing an army of unpaid workers. The always available IOC ‘cook book’ is not more than a good start, since the behaviour and attitude and hence the requirements for hiring and managing the crowd of helpers depends much more on the culture of the people with their upbringings, beliefs and traits, than it is influenced by instructions and SOPs. After all, an unpaid worker has nothing to lose. If he perceives being treated unfairly, he walks!

What Makes A Good Leader for Change

In response to evolving conditions, you came to realise that your organisation must change. You are now ready to move into action. As the leader of the organisation, one of your first and critical decisions is to appoint the team that will lead the project. Typically, the leadership consists of project sponsor, with overall responsibility, seconded by project managers focusing on specific aspects. These people will be your change agents – the ones upon which success of your initiative will rely. What makes a good change agent then?

When assessing potential candidates, you need to ask yourself three questions: Do they have the right attitude? Do they possess the appropriate knowledge? And have they mastered necessary skills? Let’s look at each of these view points.

The Right Attitude of a Change Agent

A change agent cannot succeed without great persistence. Change is a complex and labour intensive process that arouses feelings and emotions. Angry people, frustrated team mates, conflicting priorities, unforeseen problems, or behind-the-scene resistance are typical daily challenges. A project leader or Manager cannot lead her team through these without determination and stamina.

A Change Agent must have all Attributes: Skills & Knowledge and Beliefs and Attitudes

Figure 1: Chinese Character Ren. English: Human

To avoid changes in leadership in the midst of change, the person must be fully committed to see the project through to completion. A good way to ensure that, is to appoint an ambitious and enthusiastic individual who presents potential for career advancement within the organisation. She will look at the challenges as a terrific career-development opportunity and will be highly motivated to succeed. This high potential employee will gain a broader understanding of the business, an extended network of relationships and stronger leadership skills. In terms of attitude, this is one aspect that is often overlooked.

As depicted by the Chinese word “Ren”, illustrated above (Figure 1), where the two strokes supporting each other signify that “knowledge and skills” have to be complemented by “beliefs and attitudes”. A person with relevant knowledge and skills but an inappropriate attitude will not be able to contribute as much to her company and the community. Moreover, the higher the skills and knowledge of a person, the greater damage she can do to the organisation if her attitude is flawed. The change agent must be prepared to stand up for the project, even if it means tactfully challenging powerful executives – including you! In many cases which we have seen, the implementation problems are often due to the sponsors or top management underestimating the significance of their duties. The sponsors or top management are reluctant to commit the necessary resources; sometimes sending conflicting messages about the importance of change by failing to apply enough pressure to those who resist; or by changing priority half-way through the change. The change agent must act as a Voice of Conscience.

When any mid-course changes occur it is the responsibility of the Change agent to raise the issue with the sponsors; otherwise the project will end up failing. An effective change agent we worked with has this attitude: “My primary goal is to ensure this project succeeds, no matter what. My secondary objective is to preserve my personal relationship with all senior management.” This might sound extreme, but the best change agents really are tactful and diplomatic. Sometimes, a change agent must have the Political Skills, not suggesting the one to join in the game, but better understand it. A change leader must make her own judgement and keep her own counsel; no one can do it for her.

The Appropriate Knowledge of a Change Agent

The project sponsor should be a seasoned change agent with a general understanding of the business. However, project managers should be subject-matter experts in their respective area of responsibility. Having someone with excellent project management skills is simply not enough. They will crash due to lack of detailed understanding of the subject area. Expertise also brings the credibility and respect much needed to succeed in their role. Simply put, you’d better understand how a business works. In particular, change agents need to understand how the business works. This entails understanding of money – where it comes from, where it goes, how it goes, and how to keep it. It also calls into play knowledge of markets and marketing, products and product development, customers, sales, selling, buying, hiring, firing, and just about anything you might think of. In addition to the relevant expertise, a change agent should also be well connected throughout the organisation. These active relationships are important in communicating effectively with stakeholders, developing coalitions, and designing a successful rollout.

The Necessary Skills

Change is not as easy as ABC, the pressure on the project leadership is always tremendous. A change agent has to be able to operate under a huge amount of instability and uncertainty. She has to manage conflicting priorities, multiple constituencies and fast-approaching deadlines. She is responsible for guiding the organisation through the numerous challenges of transition. Therefore, in order to survive, she must possess the proven ability to remain highly effective under intense pressure.

Analytical Skills

The change agent also needs outstanding Analytical Skills in addition to being very organised and disciplined, both in her thinking and actions. Guessing won’t do, insight is nice, even useful, and sometimes shines with brilliance, but it is often difficult to sell and almost impossible to defend. A rational, well-argued analysis can be ignored, but not successfully contested. Change agents must learn to take part and reassemble operations and systems in novel ways, and then determine financial and political impacts of what they have done. At the same time, a good change agent must be flexible enough to work around hurdles and handle evolving priorities. In other words, a disciplined and yet flexible approach is needed to tackle challenges.

People Skills

People Skills such as team building, interpersonal understanding and communication skills is a mandatory set of competencies of a good change agent. The change agent has to build the project team and leverage on the team members’ competencies. To succeed, she must create a strong sense of identity, purpose and joint-ownership, as well as have a high performing mindset. In other words, engage the people, use natural leadership style and influencing skills to get results. To manage resistance – a natural part of the change process – the change agent must start by understanding and acknowledging it.

She needs a lot of empathy, with good listening skills. She must be able to put herself in the shoes of people affected by the change. Resistance is most damaging when it remains unnoticed. It usually occurs when the feelings & concerns of employees are ignored or when change is forced upon them. In order to avoid resistance or the risk of hidden resistance, the change agent must learn to listen to the voice of her customers’ feelings. Whenever possible – influence the people by involving them in decisions. During the change communication is the glue that keeps the organisation moving towards the desired state. The change agent needs to be able to communicate effectively at all levels and across the functions.

What makes a Good Change Agent?

Keep in mind that change is never easy and that the failure rate is high. To maximise your chances of success, we strongly recommend you take a hard look at your candidates. If none of them closely matched your requirements, then consider alternative people. You will avoid yourself a lot of trouble down the road. Last but not least: once you find the right individuals, make sure they can dedicate 50% to 100% of their time to the initiative. Print EN Print CN Published on iSixSigma Published on HumanResources

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