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Change Management in the Supply Chain

I have a theory or two about change and change management in supply chain organisations. Actually they apply to change in any organisation; supply chain isn’t really unique in its change management requirements.


My first theory is this…

People do like change. We make plenty of changes throughout our personal and family lives. We go on vacations for a change of surroundings, climate and culture. We change the décor in our homes. We decide to bring another child into the world, which radically changes family dynamics. We change our hobbies, pastimes, routes to and from work, even modes of personal or public transportation—and we do it all the time.

Yes, we love change. What we don’t like is when change happens to us and we have little or no input into how it happens.


My second theory is this…

Change management in the workplace will become easier over time.

I believe that effecting change in the workplace is so challenging today because the whole world of industry and commerce is itself in transition: from a state where nothing changed for many years, to one where technology in particular, gives rise to better ways of doing things and therefore, engenders change on a frequent basis.

That’s a huge change in itself and what’s more, it’s one that nobody made any plans for. It’s no wonder then that the most common protest when change happens at work is “we’ve always done it this way”. “Always” can be translated as “at least for the last 10, 15, or 20 years.

As technology continues to impact enterprise evolution and occasionally ignites revolution, people will get used to frequent changes in the way things are done at work.

The next generation of employees and managers will have no grounds to say “we’ve always done it this way”, because they’ll be unable to reference time spans of more than five years or so in which anything remained static. Hence change management will become easier.


Change Management in the Supply Chain


Change Management in the Supply Chain


Until that time though, change management in supply chain organisations remains a critical function of any significant initiative, implementation, or restructure. Change management is necessary to overcome the inertia that people exert when they are not the ones deciding upon or driving the change, and have no idea of exactly how they will be impacted.

The sad thing is this; change management in supply chain organisations is often lacking. Among those companies that allude to the process of actively managing change, are many that make a poor job of it. Some recruit or hire a change manager, then wonder why their projects still run into stumbling blocks.

I’ve got news for those companies and for you as well—you don’t necessarily need to bring in a change specialist. You just need to take on board seven golden rules that can make change management in supply chain organisations a walk in the park—or at least little more than a gentle jog.


Golden Rule #1: Start Planning Early

As soon as you know you are going to make a change, even before you begin to select that new software system or begin laying down the fine details of a process reengineering exercise, you should start making plans to address the “people” aspect of the change.

The first task in supply chain change management should be an impact assessment, targeting everyone from the leadership to the operatives on the shop floor. The change management plan should then be developed to address the identified impacts.

Remember too, that like any plan, you will need to adapt and alter it as the change you are implementing permeates through the workplace, but an early start will give you a good foundation on which to base your change management activity.


Golden Rule #2: Start at the Top

As news of change starts to be released, everyone in your organisation will seek direction and support from the executive team. Without effective change management though, the senior leadership itself may not be united in embracing new ways of working.

Some senior managers will feel the same sense of uncertainty and trepidation as those at lower levels in the hierarchy, so change management must be focused on the executive officers first, to ensure they are all ready to embrace the change and to model new behaviours.


Golden Rule #3: Create a Cascade of Involvement

Involvement is the key to successful change management in supply chain organisations. After getting the executive officers on board and ensuring they are aligned on strategy and goals, you should begin to involve the next layer of management. You can do this by getting the senior and middle-management to play a big part in designing the core of the change initiative. As your project moves along, you should bring in the first-line management people to drive implementation.


Golden Rule #4: Articulate the Case for Change

Develop a customisable message to deliver the case for change. The message should be customisable so it can be delivered in terms understood by different audiences, but it should always be made of up these three components:

1) A frank (brutally so if necessary) explanation of the need for change and the consequences of standing still.

2) Reinforcement of the benefits the change will bring and an explanation of how it will help to secure the organisation’s future.

3) Guidance for new behaviours and a roadmap to aid decision-making.


Golden Rule #5: Forget Buy-in—Think Ownership

As the change cascades through the organisation, mere agreement that the change is right and necessary is simply not enough. People at each layer of management must be prepared to serve as agents of change and to model new behaviours across their areas of influence. The best way to generate such a sense of ownership is through involvement of the target groups in identifying and solving problems with the new system or approach.


Golden Rule #6: Reject the Concept of Over-communication

When you are leading change, there is no way you can over-communicate. Communications to the management and the workforce should be practical as well as inspirational and should be conducted through multiple channels, even if that entails a degree of redundancy.


Golden Rule #7: All Change is a Culture Change

Corporate culture is best described as “the way we do things around here”. Whenever you make any significant change in your organisation, you have to address culture as a priority.

If you don’t achieve a shift in culture, what you get is: “we have some new (system/processes/structure/insert other relevant term), but this is really the way we do things around here”, which is a sure sign that your changes won’t “stick”.

Dealing with culture is perhaps the toughest element of change management in supply chain organisations. However, it is possible and when successful, makes all the other change elements a whole lot easier to tackle. Leadership must explicitly model the cultural and behavioural shifts necessary to effect a physical change.

Driving cultural change requires the construction and execution of a detailed plan, which means starting with;

A) “Where we are now” …

Then identifying

B) “Where we need to get to” …

Before finally, determining the necessary measures to move your organisation’s culture from A to B.


Making Changes in the Big Family


Change Management in the big family


Even in family life, changes have to be managed. Think about a time when you made a family decision. The larger your household, the more likely it is that at least one person wasn’t on board with the change to start with. However, with only a handful of people to consider, you were probably able to win that one person over and go ahead with executing the family plan for change.

Change management in supply chain organisations will never be that simple, simply because it’s like winning over a giant family. Moreover, your changes may well have an impact on employee’s family lives, which can generate massive amounts of uncertainty, anxiety and ultimately, resistance.

However, it’s a mistake to neglect the people side of change and forge ahead with the expectation that people will just have to like it or lump it.

Change management requires a lot of soft skills, but that doesn’t mean you have to hire a psychology expert to take control of the process. If you pay attention to the golden rules of change management and put a robust plan together as part of your overall change program, your internal leadership has all the necessary qualities to bring people on your journey, with a minimum of resistance.


Contact Rob O'Byrne
Best Regards,
Rob O’Byrne
Email: [email protected]
Phone: +61 417 417 307
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