Large Group Redesign Implementation:
Now You Have a Design, How Do you Make it Work?

As Reprinted from June 1997 Edition of
The Journal for Quality and Participation
Volume 20 No. 3

Michael J. Freeman, PE

It feels like you have just completed running the Boston Marathon. You and your organization have just spent a year assessing customer needs, reviewing current capabilities, identifying misalignments, and specifying corrective actions. The work has been demanding and challenging. It has taxed your leadership and the stamina of the entire organization. At this point, you feel both fatigue and excitment. Can you slow down and coast for awhile? You hadn't better. Now is a very delicate time. One where your organization will be looking for solid evidence that defined changes are in fact happening. The cynics will be looking for evidence that "the same old way" still persists. Just as in everything else you do, it is time to anticipate the requirements this new phase places upon you and prepare a plan of attack.

Begin with some reflection. What have you learned? Clearly some key learnings have emerged with regard to your relationship with your staff, peers, customers, suppliers, and organization. You have seen the need for new more efficient communication and information sharing processes. You have learned to allow broader participation from all levels within your organization. Decisions are being made closer to the point of attack. People are starting to take risks that were unthinkable 18 months ago. Performance is improving because decisions are being made more quickly resulting in a faster rate of improvement. All this is commendable, but is it sustainable? It is apparent that you have pushed key managers, yourself included, to the limit of their comfort zones. The tension that is present will result in one of two outcomes. It will be reduced by people returning to old established habit patterns or it will provide sustaining energy for personal and organizational growth. Which way it goes depends upon your actions.

This is where reflection plays a role. Group discussions of accomplishments and visible recognition of goals attained help maintain awareness of results and reinforcement of desired behaviors. Incorporate reflection into section and department meeting formats. Combine some cheerleading with reflection. Pass out T-shirts, have cakes at break time to celebrate significant transitions. Look for any chance to recognize and reward desired behaviors. This will acknowledge that is it not only desireable but also safe to follow through on design elements. As a leader you can instantly recognize and reward people as you encounter examples in the course of a day. This could be as simple as a word or a gift certificate. When I used ice cream gift certificates, I found many people didn't cash them, but instead kept them pinned to their bulletin board as an visible symbol of "doing a good job".

Strengthen Relationships
Stengthen your relationship with your peers and those above you. Just as sponsorship was critical during the design phase. It will be critical during implementation. Until this point, people may not have internalized the personal implications of this work. Some small changes may have appeared, but the big changes, and their implications, emerge as action plans are implemented. Being aware that people more willingly support a future they have had a chance to define, you have already involved your peers and bosses in this work through forums such as steering committees, sponsorship teams and ideally the change effort itself. In implementation the personal implications of this work will become very real and potentially threatening. Deal with this directly and forthrightly. After all, this is the behavior you are looking for from your team.

Your bosses and your peers are going to need reassurance that their needs will be met. Frequent meetings to discuss both their needs and yours will help maintain their support. It is especially powerful if business goals and targets are achieved or exceeded. Everyone likes to be associated with a winner. They will also need time with you and others to resolve their own tensions. Tensions resulting from changes to established processes, behaviors, or assumptions about which they have strong feelings. Proactive treatment of these issues will prevent external change resistance from becoming a barrier to implementation. As a leader, your relationship strengthening actions need to result in building successful coalitions and networks of allies. As organizations are really about getting things accomplished, make sure that you are supporting your peers and your boss in achieving their goals. The visible work has occurred in the design conferences. Just as important is the invisible work you do, one on one, with other leaders in your organization. Sure you may view yourself as a maverick, but if this perception becomes a barrier to implementation, nothing will change. Through ongoing conversations, personal favor swapping, resource sharing, and other supportive actions, continue to demonstrate that you are a team player. Yes, you are doing some non-traditional change management work, but it will result in everyone being more successful.

Combined Planning
The next step is to meld the implementation plans with your existing planning processes. Most organizations have established strategic and tactical planning processes. Corporate leaders set key goals. These goals are then restated within functional and department areas. Supportive tactical plans are generated. If your change effort occurred at an enterprise level, then it's implementation will be on the enterprise wide set of goals and objectives. It if occured in a subset of the enterprise, then the implementation plans must be combined with the goals and objectives given from above. Assuming your organization has an effective planning process, people can use this as a common touchstone. In combining the implementation and tactical planning, the planning process will take care of defining owners, setting review dates, defining success metrics, and aligning and catalyzing action as a result of the review and communication process. This will have a comfortable feel to it because it has been done before.

Are there any modifications required to existing planning processes? There is one that can make a very powerful statement. Involvement. If your planning process has been invisible to the bulk of the people in the organization, bring it out in the open. The core staff can still generate the plans, but hold a department meeting and share the output. Explicitly point out the plan elements which are the result of your redesign work. Ask the group if it captures the high priority action items resulting from the redesign. Be honest about how resource availability or affordability may have impacted implementation planning. In this way you demonstrate you have incorporated redesign inputs, and you have continued to model processes which invite broader participation and engagement. Make it clear that you are asking each person in the organization for their support in achieving the goals of this plan. This is a key point. Perhaps a fine line, but I found that there was a different reaction between asking people if they agreed with the plan or asking them if they could support the plan. It was easier to gain support than total agreement. As time is a competitive dimension, and the environment was constantly changing, asking for and achieving support allowed us to be responsive, seeking total agreement made us sluggish. We acknowledged the difference and sought support.

Honor your Key Learnings
Don't assume that just using your existing planning processes is sufficient. The need for significant change and realignment would not have been present if your planning processes weren't themselves in need of a tune up. Large group change models introduce a new set of skills and opportunities. You will have begun to master rapid organization wide communication , variance analysis, prioritization, and action planning processes. People's involvement expectations will be higher. This involvement and level of participation is key to achieving more rapid improvement velocities. Modify your traditional processes to make them more open. Reinforce easy access to information and participatory behaviors. We redesigned key business processes to deliver information to the point of use. Previous systems had delivered information to supervisors or managers. We also examined information systems to determine if they added value. If they didn't, they were eliminated. A large source of waste were the systems that collected data and did nothing with it. Be critical and practical about your needs. A good test is to ask "Does the customer care if we collect this information?"

Construct forums which allow people to regularly interact with each other around common issues and goals. We had very positive results with cross boundary forums. One example was a forum of machine operators. Each manufacturing line selected an operator to attend a weekly process improvement meeting. This group reviewed process yields, cycle times, and setup times to seek improvements. Process engineers and the maintenance technicians were also part of this forum. It's membership represented those stakeholders who could directly contribute to improvement. They were empowered to make changes. We found these forums resulted in not only faster rates of improvement, but also higher levels of process convergence and best practices sharing. We replicated this forum approach around each of the key technical and business processes. As large group processes are meant to mobilize the entire brainpower of your organization, we found the use of forums an effective strategy. A strategy that capitalized on skills developed through use of large group redesign.

Visible Signs
What will you see? Regular progress reports by action teams in full department meetings with atendees then meeting in groups of 8 to discusss and critique and give feedback. Your data assist team will continue to perform a valuable function by collecting, summarizing and feeding this information back to the organization for ongoing use. Your supervisors or team coaches will work with their teams to generate individual development plans and tactical plans. The development plans being skills focussed and the tactical plan being goals focussed. Individual's tactical plans will show clear alignment with the plans of the the larger organization. The steering committee will be used to generate additional ideas to reinforce desired behaviors and key learnings. Opportunities to reinforce desired behaviors that cross organizational boundaries will be sought out as well.

Attend to the Management Teams' Needs
What group is undergoing the most change? It is your leadership team. Make sure your support their needs. A powerful support technique is to provide "personal coaches". This is not their supervisor. This is someone who is trained and skilled in interventions and organizational and personal development techniques that can help your leadership team achieve personal mastery of required new skills. Personal coaches work best on a "pull" basis. Encouraged their use in a non-threatening fashion. When personal coaches can not be provided by the organization, utilize other alternatives. In many areas you will find you have access to dialog and discussion groups hosted by local professional organizations or educational institutions. These opportunities for learning from and interacting with others doing similar work can have much the same positive effect. Use a development planning process which articulates employee skill gaps and encourages constructive discussion on methods to close the gaps. Reinforce an attitude of personal skill ownership and career self reliance to encourage people to seek coaching. As a change leader, you should have your own coach and role model this behavior. Ask your coach to hold a mirror up to your leadership behavior and reflect it back in a fashion that allows you to see what is working and what is not. Then work with them to close your skill gaps. Use your coach as a sounding board. Test ideas with others as well. Consider their advise, but remember the final decision is yours. You have not only ownership for results but also a vantage point they don't.

Success Through Careful Planning
Making the implementation phase of large group change processes successful takes the same careful planning and preparation as other business activities. You will have learned the power of open system thinking. Use this new perspective to identify tensions in the larger system of which your organization is a part. Actively manage your relationship with your boss and other sponsors to make sure you meet their needs and retain their support. Recognize that implementation can cause them discomfort as implications become explicit. Ongoing communication and dialog will keep this a positive relationship. Combine the best aspects of your traditional planning processes with the new high involvement tools you've acquired to create action plans and manage progress. Support the leadership team in their transition by providing personal coaches and other developmental support to close skill gaps. As the overall leader take solid ownership for the process of leading change and delivering desired business results. Explicitly ask questions that reinforced new design elements. Only by your ongoing attention will the organization move ahead and become first conciously competent and eventually unconciously competent in the newly defined system.

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Michael J. Freeman, PE
Change Management and Organizational Development

You can contact the author by e-mail.

Last Update: 03/03/97