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The Chain of Change

by Subir Chowdhury

A ‘chain of change’ gives your leadership team a clear understanding of the effort needed to achieve substantial and sustainable change at every level of the organization.

I was visiting a friend of mine who at the time was the chief executive officer of a large consumer products company. We had spent many months discussing problems with quality that the company was experiencing. Lately, though, things seemed more positive. I thought he was well on his way to leading his company toward some substantial changes.

And yet, as we sat face to face in his office, I could see that he was uncomfortable. He seemed worried and reluctant to talk about the company.

Finally, he exhaled sharply.

“Listen, Subir.” I could tell he was very frustrated. “We have spent a lot of money on our quality deployment, but…”

He abruptly stopped talking and glanced over my shoulder to make sure that his door was closed. Then he leaned forward. In all the years I had known him, I had never seen him so uneasy.

“It’s not working,” he said, almost whispering. “Every time I think we have turned a corner – every time I see a little improvement – it slips away.” He looked at me intently. “What’s wrong with us?”

I thought for a while, then nodded. “Maybe you have a broken chain.”

“A broken what?”

I understood his problem.

No matter what kind of quality management program you deploy – Six Sigma, Total Quality Management, Lean Management, Design for Six Sigma – if it is not backed up by everyone in management, then the rank and file members of the organization will never “get it.”

I found that managers need a ‘script’ that reminds them to manage with change in mind. Without such a script, your managers may miss opportunities to transform the culture of your organization. If changes do occur, they will usually not be sustainable.

A script adds potency to the decision to make a change. Whatever management program you choose to implement, a script gives everyone on the leadership team guidance about their conduct. It becomes part of the management checklist for every detail in the deployment.

Keep in mind that all of the quality management programs I’ve mentioned are excellent tools. They have been used all over the globe by hundreds of companies, large and small, with tremendous results. Some organizations go on to sustain unprecedented levels of quality and success. But they don’t get there by parroting quality management rules and burying their noses in spreadsheets.

I developed such a script – a chain of simple ideas that anyone can understand. The chain is short – it has only FOUR links in it – and it is easy to remember: Commitment, Consistency, Competency, and Communication.

I’ll define the links:

  1. Commitment. Every member of the management team must align with the program’s deployment. They must be active, knowledgeable participants in the planning stage, and strong advocates. They must be dedicated to the program’s success and have intimate knowledge of the program’s goals.
  2. Consistency. Management must undertake very close monitoring of program deployment; be engaged in every step of its progress to ensure that goals and procedures are fully honored. Moreover, they must also ensure that personnel and financial resources are available as needed for a successful implementation.
  3. Competency. Management must ensure that they have a full understanding of the implementation process; that individual deployment leaders are fully trained and fully aligned with the goals of the program. Management must also establish an environment of complete trust and patience during the deployment.
  4. Communication. Management must commit every means available for full and open communication including intranet, ‘town hall’ meetings, and personal workplace visits. Every member of the management team and all deployment leaders must encourage two-way communication (good and bad) with other members in the organization about the deployment progress.

These four links – what I like to call the Chain of Change – describe separate and overlapping processes that gently pushes people into alignment. When it is paired with training, the chain forms a managerial imperative that must be in play at the highest levels of your leadership team. At some point, you can call them common sense values, because in fact they are that simple.

Depending on how strongly you decide to emphasize this chain, your leadership team may adopt the links as anchors for all of their actions and decisions. At a minimum, they will gain a clear understanding of the effort that is required of them to achieve substantial and sustainable change at every level of the organization.

Back to my friend. To make sure that his management team understands the importance of change, he continues to use the “chain” as part of his weekly management reviews.

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