3 Ways to Be More Proactive

As a consultant, I work with organizations across the country. I was working with a manufacturing company recently, who we will call ABC, that acquired a competitor (including its people, facilitates and customers), who we will call DEF. This wasn’t a simple acquisition as the DEF sold off a portion of its business to ABC with an agreement that DEF would be supplied by ABC for the components they previously manufactured. DEF was now a critical customer of ABC. 

DEF had been in business for almost 60 years and its facilities, now operated by ABC, still had their legacy IT systems in place to run everything. Part of the acquisition agreement was that ABC would pay a hefty fee to use those systems at a reduced rate for a period and then at an increased rate later if ABC could not stand up their own systems. Moving away from DEF’s legacy systems would save ABC millions per year. As a result, ABC’s executive team ordered an aggressive timeline to make the switch and save money.

We are not talking about a few proprietary systems that run a manufacturing site. This meant every single IT system that thousands of employees used. Everything from their laptops, wireless networks, the software that ran thousands of pieces of manufacturing equipment and the IT integration across a worldwide supply chain that spanned multiple countries had to be transformed.

The amount of change coming in a short period of time was astounding.

ABC broke the transition from DEF’s systems into multiple different projects, many of which were initially targeted to complete a year ahead of when the increased fees kicked-in, but many completed the day before those rates were hiked.

With the amount of change coming, ABC had to be proactive in its communication, internally with its employees as well as externally with its clients and partners. ABC developed and executed a proactive change management plan. They listened to their employees, were very transparent about their plans, and challenged everyone to actively be part of the transition.

While this is a single positive example, there are countless others where organizations react instead of being more proactive. Here are three ways companies can increase success – and savings! – by being more proactive.

1. Listen to your people on the ground. Your front-line workers undoubtedly know more about how systems work than the guy in the corner office. They know the dependencies of the system on other processes and they know how it will impact their day-to-day work.

Initially, for ABC’s project, the stakeholders ran each of the projects consecutively, and not concurrently; translated, employees ran different projects with different go-live dates. Stakeholders didn’t realize that each project had dependencies on the others and changes to one would impact the other groups. From the front-line employees’ view, though, it was too risky to do everything at once. They couldn’t test in the way they needed to test each project. They knew this, and they were listened to.

Before you make a strategic decision, walk the halls and ask those who work in the systems daily how this would impact them. Treat the open-door policy as such – if there are concerns, you need to be open to hearing them.  

2. Test well. As ABC’s team began to break up some of the systems and implement their new processes, they continually tested each process. When things broke, they re-tested them. With the due date looming on the horizon, people took ownership and worked long hours and weekends to complete testing. Their commitment was critical in the last few weeks and the in weeks after go-live.

Companies need to get both qualitative and quantitative data to build a better product. Invest in the process and give your employees time to test well.

3. Take the plan on the road. Disruption may not always lead to ROI. Before organizations jump at the potential savings, understand that the disruption may not be worth it. It could impact your core business and your customers. ABC took its plan to change the systems “on the road.” They met with employees (during the day and even those who worked the night shift) to discuss how the changes might impact them –and the customers. At the same time, they also took the plan “on the road” and met with customers. They wanted customers to understand the changes taking place, especially those more familiar with the manufacturing process. ABC took care and consideration to ensure their customers knew that if any disruptions occurred, they could reach out to ABC and get involved to minimize it.

It goes without saying that every company will face countless decisions, from which coffee to order for the office to which system to implement. And while all decisions have a cost, making an isolated choice should never be an option, especially when it comes to processes and technologies. Businesses need to take the time to proactively think of all the scenarios before you dive in – your employees and your customers will thank you. 

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