Getting your people excited about change – Blog #5: Using technology to get everyone on the same page

by | Apr 12, 2023 | Blog

Written by: Paul Hogendoorn, MEE Cluster Digital Transformation Consultant

We’ve all heard it oft said that people don’t like change and because of that, resist change. But that’s not always as true as we think it is. For instance, we sometimes elect new governments purely on the sentiment that “we need change”, irrespective of what the actual changes will be. There are times in our lives when we may conclude that things are not working as well as they should be, and even if we are not sure of exactly what should be done, the one thing we seem certain of is a change is necessary.

A more personal example is my favourite neighbourhood bar and restaurant. It’s been there for almost as long as I lived in the neighbourhood (about 40 years), and it’s a place I’ve celebrated many little victories, or hoisted a few brews after life set-backs or losses, and always with family, friends and neighbours. It’s a place I am very comfortable and hope will always be there. A couple months ago, the owner told us they were remodelling the place – giving it a more modern look and feel to appeal to a younger crowd. I can’t say I liked the thought that this comfortable place was going to change, but I did know that it needed to change if it was going to last. Furniture was getting old and the décor was clearly dated. When the transformation was complete, I found I wasn’t pining for the old but rather, embracing the new and wondering what took them so long.

Change isn’t always resisted; sometimes its welcomed, and usually its necessary; often it is brought on by challenges, and challenges always brings with them opportunities. Failing to change usually just equates to failing, period.

We in manufacturing are in a very exciting time, with many changes happening, and many changes still required. This is an opportunity to get our people excited about the future of our companies, and new technology is a great way to do that. Most of our people use modern information technology regularly in their daily lives – from their banking, to entertainment, and just even communicating with each other – but not on the plant floor. Bulletin boards, whiteboards (that change only slightly more often than bulletin boards), and paperwork instructions and checklists, are still the way many plants interact with their plant people. These plants are in need of an information remodeling no less than my favourite neighbourhood needed a décor change. And my guess is the impact of that change will be just as great.

First, lets consider the target audience, and how we can connect with them.

Younger workers are looking for more than a pay cheque. To them, purpose, meaning, and being valued are very important; being part of something bigger than themselves. Giving them no feedback, no indication of accomplishment, and no opportunity to be involved and part of what the company is trying to do, is basically your company settling for the lowest, least motivated and least engaged worker, because anyone that wants more than a paycheque has already moved on to another job.

Your middle aged workers may appreciate the comfort that comes with the familiarity of routine, but they’re looking for indications that the company has a future, because their future and their families’ future, depends on it.

Workers of all ages are positively impacted by transparency, accountability, trust and fairness. Not knowing the score – or only management knowing it, and then telling everyone it after the fact – is not productive; in fact, its counter productive. As my LEAN colleague Bruce would ask, “would you go bowling and not keep score?”. If you weren’t interested in your score, you’d likely stop doing it. And this brings up an interesting segue: about 25 years ago, you would’ve figured bowling was dying. Bowling alleys were old and drab and scoring was all done manually with pencils and big sheets of paper. But check out bowling alleys now; they’re big, they’re exciting, and they’re packed. The lanes, pins, balls and the game itself is exactly the same, but everything else is different. Bowling has benefited greatly by a digital makeover – everybody knows your score, everyone knows when you throw a strike, and everyone is in the moment and in the game.

Information technology can have an immediate impact with all the age groups in your company. Collecting objective information relative to performance and productivity and displaying it in real-time in meaningful ways has proven to be a sustainable, intrinsic motivator, and has been described as “the Hawthorne Effect”. Plus, its away the feeling that “this company will never change”.

Pearson’s Law states it this way: “When performance is measured, performance improves. When performance is measured and reported back, performance improves exponentially”.

The key then, is what gets measured, and how it gets shared. My three tips: make it meaningful to them, make it fair, and make sure its in real time. Forget about the old definition of KPI (“key performance indicators”). Instead think about your KPIs this way: “Keep people informed. Keep people inspired. Keep people involved”. Use technology to do this – the same technology the experience in every other area of their lives.

Ten years ago, I started a technology company and decided to put Pearson’s Law and the Hawthorne effect to the test. We measured the spindle under load time of 12 machines at a CNC job shop for 6 months. We explained to everyone what we were doing. They averaged 1050 minutes of actual machining time per machine per shift at the start of the test, which gradually grew to about 1150 at the end of the 6-month period, likely due to the Hawthorne Effect. We developed some simple dashboards to show “the score” as well as a visual representation of when value was being added for each machine during the shift. Then we installed LCD displays around the shop and showed the score and visual representation of value to everyone. Value adding time instantly jumped to 1600 minutes per machine per shift, validating Pearson’s Law. I visited the company 6 months later and saw they had improved to 1800 minutes, with the additional gains being attributed to both the intrinsic motivation factor, plus the process improvements they were able to make with the insights they derived from the data they collected.

It did not cost much to install this system, nor was there any push back from the floor. Instead, the owner knew the system was well received when one day he had people lining up at his office door when their internet connection went down and the dashboards fell behind. It quickly became part of their new workplace environment and workday experience. 

When I go back and visit my favourite local bar, here’s what I see: the location is the same, the staff is the same, the food is still good and the beer is still served in frosted mugs; I still see my friends and neighbours there, and its still a good place to watch a football or hockey game, to celebrate a victory or share a defeat. But, its new, and fresh, and a more exciting place to be, and I feel certain it will be there for years to come. Plus, I see a new crowd coming to enjoy the place too, which adds to the atmosphere and experience.

And that’s exactly what a digital makeover can do for your manufacturing business! You’re not changing the fundamentals of the business, you’re just making it a more engaging and meaningful place to work (while improving your top and bottom line). What’s not to like about that?