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Communicating Change to the Outside, Part 1

The reason we should communicate outside of our own group is that, whether we consider it or not, our behavior changes as self-improvements take hold.

By ALAN NICOL, Executive Member, AlanNicolSolutions LLC

If you read my posts, then you know that I believe a successful process improvement or business improvement results from changing our behavior. Well, if we are going to be changing our behavior, shouldn’t we warn those people and organizations with whom we work that we are doing so? Of course we should.

Unfortunately, explaining that we are on a quest of self-improvement, describing the methodology we are using, and demonstrating how it is working is neither easy to do with an outside agency, nor is it necessarily received with interest. When it is received with skepticism, it can be discouraging or embarrassing. So, why would we invite such unpleasantness upon ourselves?

There is also the consideration that it really isn’t the business of people or agencies outside of our own what we do or how we do it. Why should we feel like we must explain ourselves?

Lastly, sometimes it takes all of our thought and energy to focus on our own issues and improvements. We just don’t think about how our business partners or customers might react. Certainly, we hope that they notice our improved performance, but what about how we act?

The reason we should communicate outside of our own group is that, whether we consider it or not, our behavior changes as our improvements take hold. The people we work with or work for will notice the difference in behavior. As they notice the difference, they will respond. It is in our own interests to guide the response to our behavioral change.

Granted, a small change to our production processes for more efficiency doesn’t manifest a significant behavioral change. Maybe it just means that one assembler now performs two operations instead of one, or uses a different tool or fixture than before. That’s not something to make a big deal about.

However, what about changing our assembly philosophy so that a single assembler completes the entire assembly of a product unit, and the unit is marked or coded with the assembler’s identity? That is a change that drives behavior. Now assemblers can no longer hide behind a fog of shared culpability and anonymity. If there is a problem with a unit, everyone knows.

It’s a great way to drive improved quality and its impact on production speed is often negligible. It enables reward and recognition for excellent assembly performance, and mentoring for those who need it.

So why should anyone who is not part of the assembly process care? Well, when an assembler is held responsible for the quality of the assembly and the product, they would be more sensitive to upstream processes. If the kits they receive are not done properly, it would affect their time and performance metrics. If the design is difficult to assemble, or parts don’t fit properly, you better believe that the assemblers would have some feedback for the engineers or manufacturers.

How do you want the upstream functions and personnel to respond to the feedback from the assemblers? Do you want them to fight back and take a defensive position, or do you want them to acknowledge the opportunity to improve performance and make adjustments to enable better performance?

Sometimes “outside” really means that people are out of our organization’s purview of influence or control. Many companies, large or small, contract functional service rather than run special skills themselves. Some of us contract out our logistics and distribution, our manufacturing, our legal department or even our human resources expertise. In some cases, we may get to dictate how we want things done, but sometimes we cannot.

Suppose that we are adopting a Six Sigma style of improvement and management philosophy, and we will be monitoring the statistical variation of important processes. This means that we will be asking for data, in specific forms, from all of those processes. Also, when we decide that we want less variation from one of them, we need to be able to make such happen.

When we discuss improvements or changes with a contracted logistical service, will they resist and explain that they are the experts, and it is not appropriate for us to request that they change the way they do things? Do we really want to have to threaten them with losing our business in order to compel them to play along?

The above are some examples of the kinds of difficult discussions or problems that many progress-making organizations face when making improvements, or changing culture or behavior. These problems can be mitigated with agencies outside of our own in a similar way to how we mitigate them inside of our organization — by communicating proactively.

Please tune into the Chemical Equipment Daily for part two of this two-part series. What’s your take? Please feel free to comment below! For more information, please visit