Manufacturing Change Management


Manufacturing Change Management

Author : Bill Kelsey

The ABCs of Change Management in Manufacturing

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “The only constant in life is change.” Today we face more changes than our parents ever could have dreamed of.

What does change do to a person? When the change is not handled correctly, people tend to do several things. First, people retreat to their comfort zones. People view drastic changes as a crisis, and as a result, they begin to work and live in a crisis mode. These people see everything through the lens of a crisis, and many begin to act like Chicken Little, who kept exclaiming, “The sky is falling!” Others see drastic change and adopt a “fight or flight” mentality. Some people will retreat within themselves, become depressed, and perhaps self-hurtful. Others may lash out and become aggressive toward people and may even become violent. Still others may see change and work through the same stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. How do we make change less traumatic and more enabling?

Once we realize change is a process rather than event, we begin to view change differently. When we implement changes in our workplace, we follow a process to make change. This process follows six distinct, but interrelated steps: Alignment, Benefit, Communication, Development, Enable, Feedback. These six steps are known as The ABCs of Change Management.



ABCs of Change Management


The first step of Change Management is Alignment. With Alignment, we get clarity of what we really want to change, and why. We ask ourselves several questions. First, we want to clarify what it is we want to change. What needs to be in the scope of the change? The second question is perhaps the most important: Why do we need to change? These two critical questions establish the “Burning Platform” that will drive the change. Other questions, such as what happens if we do not change, must be addressed as well.

Once we have answered those questions, we then set our course from the current state to the future state. We ask ourselves where we want to be in the future. We need to articulate this clearly so we can make our mission resonate with the people with whom we share this vision.



Before people commit to a course of action, one of the main things they want to know is how this new course will benefit them. People ask, whether out loud or within their heart and mind, “What’s In It For Me?” (WIIFM). If people see a personal, tangible benefit for them, they will agree to be a part of the change. Conversely, if people do not see a benefit, they will oppose the change completely.

Once the benefits of the change have been determined and clarified, they should form the basis of the communication plan to explain the benefits to everyone who is affected.



Consistent, clear, and continuous communication is the key to success in any change. Poor communication is the primary reason change initiatives fail.
Everyone should hear and see the same message about the upcoming change. People will compare what they hear with others in the organization and if the message is different confusion will set in. A good communication plan will spell out exactly what needs to be said and when the message is to be broadcast. Messaging and communication need to be clear and should avoid “corporate-speak” or confusing acronyms to remain relevant to your audience.

Communication needs to be continuous in order to be effective. It has been said that a person needs to hear a message seven times before they will remember it. Communicating a clear, consistent, continuous message about an upcoming change is critical for the change to be effective and accepted more readily. If a message is not given, people will create their own message about the change.



Development, or education and training, is vital for the success of change. Consider the change of learning to drive. People cannot be expected to do something for which they have not been educated. When we institute changes, we create a development plan to ensure all the people affected by the change have been educated regarding the change and its impact on them. We must be active in our development of the people affected by change. It is only by being involved in learning that we can be confident true learning happened.



Change is a continuum. The phases leading to the change, Alignment, Benefit, and Communication, set the foundation while Development builds on that foundation and gives the affected people the tools they need to succeed. When we allow people to practice what they have learned and master the skills, we enable the success. Enabling our associates to hone their new skills takes resources – time and expenses. We must be willing to spend both for our organization to thrive in the new environment that we have created.
The same holds true with changes we make in manufacturing plants and business environments. Leaders provide the resources for people to master the change before the change is “live”. By mastering the change in a practice environment, mistakes can be made and not have large-scale negative ramifications on the product or business.



Feedback is the crucial last step of change management. Feedback tells the affected person how they are doing in adopting the change and helps reinforce the new behavior or corrects behavior is that is off course. People crave feedback, they want to do a good job, and they want to know that they are accomplishing what is expected.
People respond more to positive feedback than they will if they receive negative feedback. If a person hears negative feedback all the time, they will withdraw and “quit in place.” This can result in poor engagement from those associates and while they will continue to come to work and perform their work, they may be detrimental.

Feedback takes many forms from tangible rewards to intangible recognition. Each type of feedback has its own benefits and limitations. As a leader begins to implement change management, each type of feedback should be employed to ensure maximum effectiveness. What is effective with some people will not be as effective with others. The most effective feedback, however, is that which is done positively, immediately, consistently, and often.

Feedback is an effective tool in the arsenal of change management. Used wisely and properly, feedback can speed the change process and shorten the learning curve. Used properly, the right feedback can inspire those in an organization to become better change agents.


Applying the ABCs of Change Management in Manufacturing

The ABCs of Change Management is a roadmap for effective change. Once we know what change we are making and how we will do that, we set about effecting change. We lay the foundation of the change by getting Alignment, showing and communicating the Benefits of the proposed change, and clearly, consistently, and continuously Communicating the change to everyone affected by the change. We build the structure of the change by ensuring everyone in the organization is Developed in the new method. We create success by Enabling everyone to work with the change in a safe environment, and we make success certain by providing the Feedback to maximize performance.

Change does not have to be painful, be anxiety-ridden, and does not have to guarantee erroneous outcomes. Change can be positive, productive, and beneficial. Are you ready to implement change effectively in your organization? Contact a practitioner today.