For manufacturers gaining employee support is critical, serving as a prerequisite for making business transformation an operational reality.

By Tim Johnson, Myrtle Consulting Group, now a part of Accenture

The future of manufacturing is being written in real time. While surveys show that manufacturing leaders are optimistic about the future, many employees are less enthusiastic. Their concerns are valid. Change inevitably accompanies organizational transformation, and change can be difficult. For many manufacturers, gaining employee support is a critical next step, serving as a prerequisite for making business transformation an operational reality.

To achieve this, industry leaders need to understand the nature of resistance while developing effective processes to create optimism and acceptance.

It’s easy to forget that manufacturing is still a people-centered industry
It’s easy to forget that manufacturing is still a people-centered industry.

Why Employees Resist Change

People process change in different ways. For some, change might bring a fear of the unknown. Others can see it as something that will disrupt their lives and routines. In general, people resist change for three reasons:

#1 Logic

Sometimes, resistance to change is based on an accurate assessment of an organization’s capabilities (or lack thereof) and its preparedness for change.

#2 Politics

While the loss of status or a halt in career progression is a common reason for individuals to resist change, organizational politics also imbue mistrust in the people championing change or the desire to show that the decision to change is wrong.

#3 Emotion

While logic and politics factor into change resistance, fear about the personal impact of organizational change is often the main reason that people reject it.

5 Steps to Getting Employees on Board

While transformation management is about creating momentum to see results and growth, change itself is about empathy. For manufacturing leaders looking to support their teams during transition, here are five steps to get started today.

#1 Share a clear vision for change.

To overcome resistance and create buy-in, the organization must share a clear vision for change, including specific operational facets that need revision and a justification for the change. The vision for change should be aspirational – an achievement worth having that encourages pride and participation.

#2 Define new roles and processes.

Because fear of the personal impact of change is the major contributor to resistance, the sooner an organization develops and discusses a roadmap for transformation and helps people become comfortable with it, the better. The roadmap should include new team roles and processes. Essentially, the roadmap should say, “This is the new way of working, and here’s how you’re going to be a part of it.”

This can be especially challenging in a manufacturing environment where higher output, better efficiency, and dynamic agility often support company growth but not employee well-being

#3 Prepare people to assume their new roles.

Many operationally intensive jobs in the manufacturing industry could eventually be automated using technologies, making it critical that leaders prepare and present a plan to help employees assume new roles.

It’s not enough to define revised roles and processes; people need training and coaching to assume new responsibilities and methods of operation. Building people to build performance involves teaching, showing, teaching again, convincing, debating, coaching, addressing gaps, rewarding and sometimes disciplining, but always expressing that team members are vital to an organization’s destiny.

#4 Establish and share metrics that measure progress.

The metrics to gauge the success of a transformation depend on the type of initiative and an organization’s goals and timeline. No matter the metrics of choice, choosing and communicating them early and often is critical. Metrics drive behavior and offer a sense of purpose. They define accountability, help employees focus and inspire them to want to win the shift, the day, the month or the year. Employees now know how success looks and what is expected of them and their teams.

For example, a manufacturer might decide to implement significant process changes designed to increase production. Establishing and sharing production targets creates a performance atmosphere. Team members can understand the goals. Shifts get competitive and those leading the initiative will know whether processes are changing, and people are adopting new approaches.

Ideally, measurements begin with small wins and build up to more significant achievements. That approach offers opportunities to celebrate milestones throughout a long transformation initiative and helps to keep the organization engaged and upbeat.

#5 Draw naysayers into the process.

When it comes to change management, renowned sociologist Everett Rogers developed the Diffusion of Innovation theory more than 50 years ago. For these purposes, let’s use the theory to say that in any given organization, about 20% of employees will be ready for change and 20% will resist at all costs. Roughly 60% in the middle can be persuaded either way.

These voices of resistance may have status in the company. However, they are often peer influencers whose points of view are regarded as highly as those from anyone in the power structure. If they believe a transformation initiative isn’t going to work, they can sabotage it.

Ignoring those voices is tempting, and some organizations do. But it’s more effective to pull them into the transformation. By making them part of the solution, you disable their resistance. It also can be helpful to include skeptics since they might see pitfalls and provide the chance to course correct.

Successfully transforming an organization is often seen as an exercise in project management. But in the end, it’s only partially about systems, spreadsheets and timelines. What matters most in the organization’s journey are people and how leaders manage their transition to a new way of working. Understanding those dynamics and bringing team members along on that journey is the only path to true organizational transformation.

Conclusion

In a sector that is often focused on emerging trends such as machine learning, automation, and digitalization, it’s easy to forget that manufacturing is still a people-centered industry, reliant on increasingly skilled teams to adapt and support burgeoning demand markets.

That’s why it’s critical that manufacturing leaders gain employee support by approaching it as a people-first endeavor. Focusing on team members and giving them the tools and information they need to participate in a transformation initiative will help manufacturers navigate the difficulties along the way – and successfully end the journey as a new, improved and more competitive business.

About the Author:
Tim Johnson is Partner and Executive Vice President of Operations at Myrtle Consulting Group, now a part of Accenture. Myrtle is a firm that drives operational transformation within global manufacturing, processing and distribution organizations.