What is change management in manufacturing?
Manufacturers are perhaps amongst the businesses most susceptible to change. There are many facets to their work, and many variables associated with their operation. There are always new innovations on the horizon, and there are external events (like Brexit and the pandemic) that accelerate new methods across the industry.
Change management consists of any measure a business puts in place to facilitate change. This could involve using a strategy for identifying potential threats/opportunities. It could also include the restructuring they complete to make an adjustment period less severe.
There should at least be one person of authority that oversees obligations related to change management, and this person will drive necessary actions. By being prepared for all the different types of change, companies will have a foundation that puts them in good stead during tumultuous times.
Why is change management important to manufacturers?
Changing the way your business works has always come with challenges. Whether the change centres around personnel, equipment, or processes, it’s something that requires vision and planning. You need to know what you’re looking to achieve, and how you’re going to get there.
Digital transformation works in the same way, not least because it can lead to further operational changes within the business. The most important thing you can do is take everyone along for the journey. The “my way or the highway” approach may have been normal in the past. But the benefits of having universal acceptance can be extremely rewarding.
Dealing with resistance can be a drain on time and energy. And if the new process fails there can be financial repercussions too. Whereas, if everyone’s pulling in the same direction, it’s far more likely that any changes will be successful.
What are the five steps of change management?
Realisation that a change is needed
The first stage is to realise that something must be done differently. This could be a result of poor company performance, internal restructuring, market changes, political/environmental factors, competitor behaviour, new technology, legislative changes, customer demand, or any number of other factors too.
Making a detailed plan
You should then try to orchestrate all activity that will need to take place for the new way of working to be realised. An effective plan makes it far more likely that the implementation will be a success, as less is left to chance, and there’s more clarity around the responsibility of each employee.
Conveying these plans to employees
The plans should then be communicated to the wider team. During this stage, you can attempt to explain the reasoning behind the changes, which should make employees more understanding. You can also make it a two-way conversation, allowing them to voice their concerns. Not only will this sooth relations, but they may raise a good point that improves your plan.
Enforcing the changes across the business
After spreading awareness of the changes (and hopefully achieving universal acceptance), the next step is to put the plans into motion. Manufacturers can go ahead with implementation, with all employees mindful of their specific role.
Assess the impact of the changes
The final part of change management should be to analyse the results of the new approach. Did the transition go as expected, and are there any additional tweaks that need to be made? Without conducting this assessment, there’s no way of knowing whether the desired outcomes were achieved.
What are the most important aspects of change management?
Tackling the fear of change
It’s natural for people to resist change. For some, it’s about sticking to a comfort zone they’re used to. For others, taking what they perceive to be a risk can be daunting. They may refer to the mantra of not needing to fix something that isn’t broken.
The reasons for their trepidation are often entirely rational. After all, we’re hardwired to be cautious in the face of the unknown. Your workers may also be fearful that new technology will make their jobs obsolete. Or they will perhaps view the changes as being solely money-driven (without a thought for their wellbeing).
If this attitude is allowed to prevail, it will make it even more difficult to introduce changes further down the line. And by that time, you may have lost significant ground to the competitors that have embraced change. So, it’s crucial that you share your vision across the entire business, and actively encourage an openness to flexibility/fluidity.
Be sure to show some empathy to employees and help them to understand that by introducing smarter ways of working, their lives will be easier and more productive. Ultimately, a more cost-effective way of working will improve customer satisfaction, boost the company’s bottom line, make jobs more secure, and possibly result in higher performance-related bonuses.
It’s vital to communicate with your workforce before, during and after the implementation of change. It can be more difficult to get employees on your side if they think plans have been formulated behind their back (and if you suddenly spring it upon them with no prior consultation). Having the authority to enforce change doesn’t necessarily mean this should be done without the input and approval of others.
On a related note, the culture of your business will likely play a key part in the seamlessness of the process, and this is often shaped by the past. Some employees (particularly the more experienced ones) may have seen various attempts to change processes over the years. If many previous efforts weren’t managed properly, there’s likely to be cynicism around future attempts.
If this is the case, communication is even more important. Share your plans with workers from an early stage and show them how the new methods will increase efficiency. This could include a demo, if, for example, the change involves the use of a new system.
Let them know what might be expected of them (and the timeline around specifics), but also highlight the benefits of the new approach. Be sure they’re aware of the level of importance the company places on these changes.
Linked to this is the idea of identifying who owns each process within your manufacturing operation. This is more nuanced than simply dividing tasks between a small selection of senior individuals.
Of course, it’s important to bring the management team along with you. If there’s resistance at that level, this will likely filter down to the more junior members of their departments. But you should go further than that.
For example, whilst it’s true that a CFO may have ultimate responsibility for the finance team and its functions, there could be various smaller teams (such as payroll, accounts payable, and so on) which each have their own specialisms. When change affects those employees, work with them so you can benefit from their expertise. This will also make them more likely to buy in to your ambitions.
How to bring about change management in manufacturing
For change to take place with minimal disruption, it’s important that all staff are equipped appropriately. This includes providing the relevant training on new systems, tools, or protocols that might be coming into effect.
It makes no sense to achieve a culture of continuous evolution if employees have not been given the ability to adapt. This would lead to a feeling of disempowerment, and a reversal in attitudes. Performance would likely suffer too, and the transitional period would be unnecessarily turbulent.
The adoption of new technology, in itself, is an example of a substantial change that must be managed. But the utilisation of a digital system serves to make future changes smoother too, acting as a mechanism that can actually be used as part of the change management process.
This ultimately makes their business more resilient when sudden/unplanned changes occur (as employees aren’t carrying the full weight of responsibilities). Some solutions will enable a level of automation, enacting changes instantaneously, with less effort and fewer errors.
Managing change with Advanced Business Cloud Essentials
At Advanced we provide Business Cloud Essentials (BCE), a solution that was designed with manufacturers in mind. It empowers these businesses to perform optimally, and to get the most out of their resources. This system was made to be intentionally scalable (a crucial characteristic for those looking to be agile).
Some software can be rigid, making it obsolete as soon as the user expands their operations. But Business Cloud Essential takes away much of the discomfort that can normally accompany growth, scaling up its processes in tandem with the demand a company is experiencing.
Being cloud-based ensures any data updates within the solution can be applied instantly and remotely. BCE’s reporting capabilities (and analytical prowess) allow for powerful business decisions, improvements that are informed. The insights gained may highlight the need for changes that would have otherwise gone unnoticed.
This Manufacturing Software also serves as a wider business management solution. It has modules for production planning, e-commerce, inventory control, contact management, accounting, and more. This means that the aspects of stock, sales and finance are interconnected. So, if a change is made to one of them, it will automatically impact the others.
If you’re looking to establish a culture that embraces change, and you want to implement a more effective change management strategy, then take a closer look at our Business Cloud Essentials Manufacturing Software. This system is particularly suitable for small to medium-sized manufacturers and helps businesses to be more efficient and agile.