Through whose spectacles are you looking at the world?
This story concerns my first major change programme where I was the only coach /consultant on a team of 10, all but one of whom were at least 10 years older than me. The objective of the project was to dramatically improve the performance of the business by modernising working practices and organisation.
We had reached the stage in the project where all the theoretical work had been done and the organisational change had been implemented. All that remained were the working practices. And, for the first time, I faced real resistance. It wasn’t aggressive, argumentative resistance, it was slow foot-dragging, passive resistance.
The problem was that I was working with a man who was widely regarded in the business as being the best at delivering results using the old practices. If he tried the new practices and they didn’t work, he would lose face. All he could see was risk.
For the duration of the project, I had been staying at a local hotel, which happened to have a generous loyalty programme. As a result I had accumulated several vouchers for free weekends at their hotels. One day I took the hotel’s directory in to work along with the vouchers. I had got more vouchers than I could use, would my man like a free weekend away? He jumped at the chance and on the Monday after his weekend away, told the office it had been smashing!
Shortly afterwards, the area of Kent where we were working was hit by one of the biggest snow storms for a decade, completely shutting almost every road. When we got into work a week later we had a big surprise. The man had been busy. Living very nearby, he had been one of the few who could simply walk to work. Well, he said, there was nothing else to do so we thought we’d give your new working practices a go – bloody brilliant they are!
In a follow up meeting, he and his team announced that they wanted to make some changes to the new methods. I told them that that was not how the system was designed to work so if they wanted to change it, they would have to take responsibility. Not a problem young man, I was told, leave it to us.
From that one moment, the performance took off. We achieved a reduction of 90% in the process throughput time. One family of products which had never been delivered on time shot straight to 100% on time and stayed there. Quality was also dramatically improved. As a result of the quality and delivery improvements we also managed an equally significant reduction in cost. Our absenteeism fell to below 2% and only wasn’t zero because of one long term sick person.
There were two really important lessons from this project. The first one is about understanding what’s in it for the person you want to change. I didn’t try to bribe my man. It was a genuine offer. I also couldn’t have predicted snow. I do believe though that my offer put a deposit in his emotional bank account and that is why he chose to put one in mine.
The second lesson is about ownership. I could have insisted that the team stick to my design, but I didn’t. At that time I didn’t know what I done. By giving the ownership to the team, I received the result I wanted. If the team hadn’t owned the project, improvement would never have been sustained.
Over 2 years: Sales increased from £60M to £80M, cost reduced by £12M and working capital reduced by £10M.