Preparing for Growth with Change Management

By J Schneider, VP, Strategy

Everyone in the industrial manufacturing space knows that if you aren’t actively growing, your share of the pie is actively shrinking. That’s why manufacturing firms dread the thought of remaining static. It’s also why your manufacturing firm is almost certainly in a constant state of growth and expansion.

Of course, you don’t achieve continuous growth by resting on your laurels. You do it by proactively seeking out new approaches and pursuing new initiatives. Sometimes, you even do it by taking big bets. To put it really simply, growth is a byproduct of change.

Depending on how you are currently pursuing growth, these changes may relate to your product portfolio, internal processes, sales organization structure, distribution network, marketing approach, and more. But what they all have in common is that they require your staff to embrace and effectively incorporate change in the form of new systems, goals, and responsibilities, on a frequent basis.

And that means that you have a very real need for change management.

What is Change Management, and Why Does it Matter?

You may have heard the term “change management” tossed around at conferences or by business bloggers and industry consultants. And you may have written it off as yet another corporate trend that doesn’t necessarily deliver the goods.

But the reality is that change management in the manufacturing industry is a critical piece of the growth puzzle. Change management isn’t complicated. It’s really just the process of proactively arming your team with the right information, tools, and training to navigate changing expectations so that they can successfully execute a new responsibility or initiative.

If it sounds pretty basic, that’s because it is. But it’s often the first thing that gets left out of the equation.

Manufacturers spend a great deal of time planning for change. They devote lots of energy to their shifting business strategies. And they know they need to get down to the nitty-gritty details when it comes to planning new tactics that will drive growth. But they don’t always connect those changes to the individuals who will be called on to implement them.

Think of it this way: Growth requires new strategies. New strategies equal new processes. New processes equal change. And change means people have to do their jobs differently than before. That means it’s not enough just to assign new roles and responsibilities. You must first equip your staff with the right information and training to understand what’s changing and why, as well as what’s required of them in order to make that change happen.

Change management in the manufacturing industry is all about laying the foundation for a smooth transition. In that sense, it’s a bit like painting a layer of primer on a wall before changing the color on a wall. The primer prepares the wall to accept the new paint color and yields a consistent, even result with less overall effort.

Not just that, but the more dramatic the color shift, the more critical that layer of primer will be. You’d never attempt to paint a soft butter yellow over a navy blue wall without first applying primer. Likewise, the bigger the changes to your business model, the more crucial change management will be to the success of your strategy.

The Benefits of Embracing Change Management

Change management is really pretty simple and straightforward. Yet in some companies, it’s either forgotten or — worse — considered a bad word. In some cases, manufacturing companies simply don’t take the time to fully invest in change management. They may communicate about changing processes and protocols, but they do so in an ad hoc manner. This leaves staff scrambling to put all the pieces together and achieve their company’s goals.

In other cases, managers may be reticent to fully communicate about changes because they don’t want employees to feel overwhelmed by new responsibilities, especially if it’s adding to their workload. Of course, this is a short-sighted way of looking at things, one that shoots both business objectives and employees in the foot.

You should always proactively invest in change management before launching into a new strategic approach or initiative. Doing so lays the groundwork for success by:

  • Reducing internal confusion and promoting internal alignment
  • Setting your team up to more efficiently execute on your strategy
  • Increasing your staff’s satisfaction at work — and driving up their motivation

How to Use Change Management to Fuel Your Manufacturing Company’s Growth Initiatives

Once you’ve decided to embrace change management, it’s time to create a plan of attack. Use these tips to get started.

  1. Identify the risks involved with your new strategy and use those risks to map out a smart change management plan. Change and risk often go hand in hand. As you’d expect, bigger bets entail more change and higher risks. The good news? Change management can play a big role in ameliorating some of those risks. Start by mapping out the specific risks associated with your new strategy. Next, consider how to apply change management to each of those areas in a way that draws down the level of risk. For example, let’s say you currently sell through distribution but are now switching to direct sales. To do this, your sales team will need to switch gears in a major way — and that shift represents a high risk. What if they fall flat in making direct sales? Change management allows you to ID the need for change in your sales team’s responsibilities as well as a strategy for effectively retraining your team. In this case, change management requires that you build in time for comprehensive retraining before launching your direct sales initiative.
  2. Establish buy-in with key stakeholders. In the context of change management, key stakeholders are the people who own the end results in a new initiative. You must have buy-in from each of these team members in order to achieve the best results. Change management is the key to achieving that buy-in. Doing so requires that you take the time to give your key stakeholders a full understanding of what’s changing and why — as well as how they will individually help bring about that change.
  3. Communicate your plan for change to your entire team. Make sure your entire staff — even those whose roles won’t be affected — is aware of the new changes to the status quo. Everyone in your organization should understand the basics of your new strategy and why it matters.
  4. Repeat. Change management is never one-and-done. It’s an ongoing process, one that should be repeated as often as needed and re-imagined every time your manufacturing firm shifts gears yet again.

It may seem rudimentary, but change management is really all about good communication. In fact, it’s really just a fancy way to describe the process of effectively communicating with your team about what the future looks like, how their responsibilities will change, and what tools and information they need to do their job well. Embracing change management will not only improve your manufacturing firm’s outcomes, but it will also make for a more unified, motivated team.

Related Content