Manufacturing Tomorrow


Create A Culture Of Manufacturing Innovation Using Change Management

May 03, 2016
By: Jeffrey H. Wulf
Manufacturing and Distribution

Innovation, by its nature, requires change. And to get quality manufacturing innovation, you need a corresponding capacity for trying new ideas and processes.

While making incremental improvements and slightly modifying existing methods have their place, true innovation does require real change, whether that means taking a risk on cutting-edge technology or being willing to try new communication strategies.

Companies that drive manufacturing innovation often have a strong change management culture running in parallel. These companies view the ability to manage change as a basic competency that they strive to develop throughout the organization. Managing change helps lessen people's fear of change. And when people don't fear change, they're willing to push themselves further, driving innovation.

Here's an example of how change management helped a manufacturer in a tough industry get back on track. The printing industry has been shrinking, and this manufacturer saw its margins decreasing over time. The company's leadership knew it needed to redefine its business model, and decided to look to the existing employees for solutions.

To get people from different levels of the organization involved, the manufacturer invested a lot of time in change management training, teaching people what it means to be part of a significant change. While the leadership set the strategic initiatives, all the change management activities were led from the ground floor. The result was a recommendation from employees to actually redesign the entire work layout. Senior leadership took the recommendation and ended up reconstructing the building to create an open environment that fostered collaboration and team-focused problem solving. By reinforcing that everyone is part of process improvement and needs to take ownership, the manufacturer produced a best-in-class business model. This redesign took time, effort and resources, but it was transformative, and the manufacturer has experienced good growth and continuing profitability.

You may think of change management in the context of a finite project, like implementing new processes or upgrading technology. But applying these techniques more broadly gives manufacturers a way to implement larger, far-reaching organizational change. Change management is all about process, and that process is scalable. The basic principles and techniques remain the same - a larger scope usually just requires different levels of support and resources for each phase in the process.

For example, if you're planning to launch a far-reaching culture initiative at a large corporation, you're going to put more resources into the change management process. While initially preparing for change, that might mean spending more time doing assessments and studying change readiness. When you get into managing the change, you'll probably require fairly complex communication plans, sponsor roadmaps and resistance management plans. The same increased effort holds true in reinforcing the change. With a large project, you're likely to benefit from a more formal process for post-project recaps and setting up feedback loops.

People tend to talk about manufacturing innovation and change as separate processes, but there's a strong correlation between your company's capacity for change and its capacity for innovation. Whether your project is large or small, change management uses a consistent process and set of techniques to expand that capacity for change. The only difference between a finite project and a company-wide initiative is the amount of effort and resources you apply to these change management processes.


Jeffrey H. Wulf
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