How I learned about the grey in life, Part 4

When implementing change you can reach different results depending on how you go about putting the change in place. Change happens everywhere and all the time. I wrote a blog in Swedish about change on the topic that even if you are ready for change, other people around you could have lost a loved one or happened to get on the wrong bus this morning. See the individuals. There is no such thing as a factory worker, an economist, a stock broker, a sales rep, a demand planner, they are only individuals.

This time I am adressing the change process it self. Change can be small, like when your favourite restaurant changes the menu, or it could be a sales process implementation. It could be a short change cycle, like when you decide to cut your hair, or everlasting change like an S&OP implementation. Change is a part of life. For me change is the spice of life. I have small children and my life consists of a constant flow of small changes and therefore everything is a turmoil, in a fun/sucking the life out of me kind of way (people who have grown children often look back and say that these where the days). Without change we don’t challenge ourselves and we don’t learn. 

Change done in the wrong way or change just for the sake of change is a real energy drainer, for all parts involved. If you put alot of work (and money) into making change happen, it is a real waste if you don’t reach your destination. This is why it needs to be handled in a good way

When I learned how little I matter

It has been some years since this happened, and it still haunts me. I hate to fail, but I did. It was my lack of experience and spirit and wanting to do better that dug me a hole to fall into.

I was the in store logistic manager in a medium-sized IKEA store in Sweden. My staff consisted of 3 administrators and a warehouse manager. My warehouse manager had 7 contracted employees and 12 part-time employees under him. Our budget was tight and our goal was to secure that the store was filled to the brim and that it was neat and clean when we opened for our customers. So, no refilling, no empty pallets, no garbage and no forklifts when the first customers arrived. Great principle, a huge undertaking!

The decision to get this rolling was the start of the mess I later found myself in. My biggest problem was to get a schedule to balance how many heads we had, the total budget and the required amount of staff need in place at any given time during the 7 days of the week. If I took my 10 contracts and matched to the budget I barely had any extra hours left for the part-time employees. If I tried to create a schedule for the year using my 10 contracts, placing them to man all the positions, securing all the work that needed to get done, I could not make ends meet. I was missing about 4 heads in any given week, not to take in account our peak periods when I could easily need another 4 heads. I did not want to fire anyone (I could not really for legal reasons), but it was clear to me that we could not do this with so many full-time employees. At the same time, I had committed to make this work.

This required my warehouse manager to work every morning driving a forklift and later in the day was part of covering for coffee breaks and lunch. He was never available for any planning or to sit with the issues himself, so I helped him by stepping in and coming with excel sheets that would calculate schedules and they could even simulate changes (I’m good at excel). I also negotiated some contracts with the other departments creating two half time  from two fulltime employees. I stepped in and changed the layout of how the refilling would take place (where to put the pallets, how to unload more efficiently, how the cooperation to other teams worked, where to stack articles, you name it). I found lots of small changes and the schedule managed to squeeze a little bit more out of the team. We met with the team and presented my suggested changes and with only a few comments to the changes I said that we will start immediately. My warehouse manager was still fully occupied by the workload, so I even stepped in to support (and to show some solidarity) since I can handle a forklift. While I was active in the mornings I could monitor what was happening and I could comment on performance and support the staff in how the new way of working was supposed to work. I worked myself to the bone, from 5 am to 6 pm (8 pm some days).

During this period I lost sight of what I was trying to change. Operational issues, disgruntled employees, budget problems, quality issues, and so on, all landed on me. I had become the warehouse manager and in store logistic manager all rolled into one and it was getting us no ware. Finally I gave up, caved, chickened out, lost the game, call it what you want. It was not manageable. Did I mention that I hate losing?

Did I change anything? Yes, some of the routines stuck and there was improvement in some areas. Did I manage to meet the goals and hit the budget? No, I failed. And that’s just it I failed. I did not reach anyone to get acceptance of what I was trying to get done. It was basically my plan and I drove it.

Lesson learned

Since then I have been a part of successful change projects and I learned a lot of change management theory as well.

Stages you need to pass in order to reach acceptance. Your level of energy (regressed or acting out) is on the lateral scale and the stages you must pass or on the horizontal scale.

Change is driven by communication and motivation not good ideas alone. In order to achieve change you need to take the following into consideration:

  • Don’t change everything at once, no matter how tempting this is, that will only prolong the process and is a great recipe for failure
  • All managers need to be ahead in the change cycle, in acceptance, so they can support their people where they are (if both managers and co-workers are in the Immobilization phase, you’re in trouble)
  • Give people time to reflect on the idea of change (the pure fact that there will be change) before you start implementing it
  • Respect individuals, everyone handles change differently and will regress or act out differently (I have been yelled at a few times)
  • Never overstep managers, they have the responsibility to do the job and know their teams (connects to the previous point)
  • Involve people in the process, you need some early adopters that can speak within the ranks about the benefits of the change
  • Set goals that can be measured in order to provide feedback on the progress (KPI’s and OPI’s are great support, done right, we bloged on this earlier)
  • Ask for help, if the change is not going the way you expected, turn to your colleagues to find a way to move things along
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate! Tell people are we, where have we been and where are we going
  • Allow people to speak out and address their input, or you have to take care of rumors or bad seeds sown in your change project
  • Land one change before you throw in the next one

Another lesson I learned is that you can’t always fix a problem you did not cause. I do not consider a problem solved unless it never comes back again. My biggest problems kept coming back because they were created by central planning and I was sitting on the top of the iceberg, so I could only relieve the situation, not resolve it. This is a big reason why I later started to work at IKEA’s main office in Älmhult. By revealing the true nature of a problem you are much better at finding ways to deal with the issues.

If I could do it all over again, I would probably change everything I did, but that’s not a luxury we have in life, I’ll just have to live with my actions.


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