Successfully implementing change


There are many books on change management, most of which boil down to the Golden Rule – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.

If you are contemplating a change that will affect the way people work, ask yourself the question “If I were in person X’s position, what input would I like to have in to what we’re planning to do?”, and live by the answer that you come up with.

A very good manager suggested the following four steps to successful change:


  1. Involvement
  2. Understanding
  3. Agreement
  4. Commitment


Expanding on these:

– Without involving people its unlikely they will understand exactly the change that is contemplated and how it will affect them personally.

– Without understanding, its unlikely that people will agree that the proposed change is the right thing to do.

– Without agreement, there is little chance that anyone will be committed to making the change a success.

The type of change is, of course, significant. If it is a simple change to a piece of operating equipment, then gaining commitment of the tradespeople involved in the work through involvement, understanding and agreement is simple (but still very important). If the change is the introduction of a new maintenance computer system, then the process obviously takes much more time and effort, and is also more important because the change affects almost everyone and will do so for a long time. Many maintenance computer systems fail because of a failure to follow the four steps.

Where the change is for survival, and may result in the elimination of many jobs, then the ability to follow the four steps is limited. However, the degree of consideration implied in these steps is even greater in these circumstances and should be displayed in the way such changes are handled.

One last word about “involvement”, a word that has been grossly overused, is that it is a process that should be used with caution. It is a mistake to involve employees in any change unless you are committed to making it happen, and have been given the authority to proceed. All too often employees are “involved”, offer great input and build up expectations, only to find that nothing happens. Before long, the enthusiasm for change disappears and is replaced with cynicism.

The following are a couple of examples of change, one quite unsuccessful, the other successful. Both involved the elimination of work restrictions, and in both cases such changes were allowed under the terms of the respective collective agreements.

  1. In the first case, a bulletin was published under the heading “Work Flexibility”. Among several clauses in the bulletin, one stated “Operators will do lubrication”. This was in an operation where there was a crew of oilers who currently did all the lubrication. The oilers were ex-operators who had used their seniority to gain a day-shift position in the lubrication crew, did a very good job and enjoyed their work.

Understandably, the bulletin gave them great concern. It did not say what would happen to them. Were they to be laid off, returned to shift work or given some other assignment?

This is one example of the confusion and uncertainty that existed through several months of union-management arguments and disagreement which culminated in a long strike which could have been avoided by following the “four steps”.

  1. At a similar operation, all maintenance employees, with their supervisor and union representatives, attended an initial meeting where the subject of eliminating many restrictive trades practices was introduced and discussed. No mention was ever made of any potential savings to the company (although that was obvious to everyone) and the focus was always put on the benefits to the tradespeople (also obvious).

After much fruitful discussion, the changes were introduced, there was no strike and many tradespeople expressed their gratitude for being able to just get a job done, the way they felt is should be done, without waiting for or depending on anyone else.

Another excellent related article is “Why improvement efforts fail” at John.crossan,com.




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Don Armstrong, P.Eng, President
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