by: Tom Flodeen, VP and GM of Customer Support – Mentor Graphics Corporation
Most of us believe we are great change advocates, but the reality is we also all like stability. Especially when it is stability in our own operation. I have learned over the years that change is often the result of pain. As long as the current process causes no pain, it is likely not going to change. But once pain is introduced, changes become needed. Once a change has been identified that will ease the pain, it becomes desired. Of course change is generally viewed as bad by those that have to make the change. So it takes effort to get change implemented. I would like to talk about where the pain that drives change comes from, and then some of the factors that help make the change a reality.
Customers are one of your best sources of pain. If you do not have a way to see or measure your customers’ pain, perhaps you will at your next job, because being out of touch with your customers generally means you will lose them. You need to make it really easy for customers to tell you when they are in pain. We do a lot of specific surveys whenever customers access our services, whether that access is direct or via the web. We want to know why they contacted us, whether they found what they were looking for and how the method in which they were serviced felt. All of these factors are important. Just because they found an answer does not mean they are happy with the way you made them find it. We also allow a customer to provide feedback from every page within our support website. So if at any time throughout the service process they want to express an opinion, it is really easy for them to do so.
These surveys result in a lot of customer feedback and specific comments about our products, our people and our methods. We view all negative comments as pain. It may not be our pain, but it was someone’s pain. Using that pain to drive change generally results in less pain in the future. Less pain is good because happy customers generally renew their contracts, while unhappy ones generally renegotiate their contracts, or just go away.
But pain from customers in the form of feedback is hopefully mostly minor pain that results in process tweaks. It takes major pain to truly drive innovation. From my experience, major pain does not come from customers, it comes from either a vision of something better, or business reality.
The vision of something better brings pain in that you now have to cause change throughout your organization for the new vision to be implemented. This is self imposed pain and is not really all that common. It takes a strong vision and a belief that the ROI will be worth the investment and pain when it is all done.
I have found the vision of something better is not an everyday occurrence, but business reality is. Every year we are driven to beat last year. Some years more than others. I can tell you that in my experience, when I have a lot of pain dumped on me because of the reality of needing to stay in business, I get creative and that is when innovation occurs. I have lived through times where significant cuts were required, only to come out the other side with higher customer satisfaction scores, increased productivity and a more motivated team.
I had a manager that experienced some pain caused when three of his employees went to work for one of our customers. The pain was the volume of work left by their absence. What amplified the pain was the booming economy we were in at the time. Hiring was difficult and normally took time. After three months of not finding replacements this manager came into my office and told me to cancel the open slots because they were no longer needed. It turns out that his team got tired of the pain and innovated several process improvements that resulted in enough increased efficiency that the open positions were no longer needed. This change would likely not have occurred without the driving factor of the pain.
One of the key factors in getting change implemented is communication. I am not just talking about communicating what the new process is. I am talking about making sure every employee understands what the problem is that is causing the pain, then involving them, especially those that have to get the work done, in determining the possible options for going forward. I have found the best solutions generally come from those that have to implement it. You cannot compromise on the need, but you can certainly compromise on the solution.
If your team understands the cause of the pain and buys into the fact that it is real, they will buy into the solution. The fact that they have bought in to the problem makes driving change much easier because now the entire organization is expecting it.
I cannot over stress that you need, as much as is possible and practical, to make the plan for change theirs and not yours. Of course it must meet your needs, but you do not want the team undermining the change because they did not believe in the plan. Instead you want them driven to succeed because it is their plan. This sounds obvious but I cannot tell you how many times a manager, director or VP wants things done their way, regardless of whether there is a better way to get things done.
Another key factor to change is measurements. Be very careful to not fall into the trap of using measurements as a judgment of employee performance. The measurements should be for the sole purpose of determining if the process is working and what impact on success various changes to the process have. It is a fact that measurements shown to employees will change behavior. So be careful what you share, but when you share it, always relate it to the effectiveness of the process, not to the performance of the employees.Tom Floodeen has over 28 years of experience in the electronics industry working with both hardware and software products. During this time he has held positions of increasing responsibility in the areas of technical training, field support, quality assurance, customer support, and consulting services. Floodeen is an expert in change management, and has a track record of achieving excellent results while moving teams through significant changes in strategic direction and structural organization. Prior to joining Mentor as General Manager of Customer Support, Floodeen held management positions at Cadnetix, Intergraph, and VeriBest.