Business sustainability is far too complex, far too dynamic for the old traditional organisational processes. Successful implementation can only be achieved with the full involvement of everyone.
For some people, changing behaviour is a massive strain on their synapses. For those of us who accept change as inevitable or indeed exciting, their resistance is inexplicable. However, it would be a sad old world if we were all the same.
The Times reported recently that cautious people lived longer than carefree risk takers. It would seem to me that using this argument therefore they are more likely to survive in the evolutionary progress of man, so don’t knock it. Unfortunately however, this theory did not help the wooly mammoth when the ice retreated and left the big furry coated elephants sweating in the sun. Evolution was not quick enough.
So it is today for our standard of living. Oil, water and many other resources are diminishing. This is our wooly mammoth moment. Change now or forever rest in peace. No point arguing that “science and technology will find a way” or “the economics of supply and demand will balance it all out”. It is the scientists that are telling us the system is failing and the economists have not got a clue how to explain what just happened never mind what is going to happen.
The obvious changes in resource availability today, for whatever reason, should be enough to warn that adaption is better than waiting for everything to go back to how it was, because it wont.
Overcoming resistance obviously starts at the top. Changes in the strategy of the company must be initiated and supported from the top or all else fails. This obvious and well-known fact is where, in my view, the traditional function of management ends, what follows must be a radical change in approach to turning strategy to practice. Traditionally, Executives set out the corporate strategy and the managers turn this into action by coming up with the ideas and developing the programmes for implementation. They then attempt to engage, consult or otherwise persuade the workforce to comply with their new initiatives.
How often have we seen these initiatives stumble and fail or the original objectives altered to suit the outcomes. (The latter is a clever consultant trick that appears to deliver what the management thought they wanted all the time.) I saw one consultancy recently, at the cost of many hundreds of thousands of hard-earned cash, implement a “very successful” communications system that had everyone getting together and talking (albeit about minutiae). They convinced the Board that they had achieved their objectives. Unfortunately productivity had fallen to a dangerous level and a great deal of money had to be spent to get the productivity outputs back to where they were previously. The consultants were obviously not to blame (which would have incriminated the senior managers) but the lazy workforce and change resistant unions were.
So how do we achieve a sustainable business? People who, naturally do not like change need to do the changing and that is the dilemma. We need to start with the senior managers who need to accept that the same old way of driving change is inefficient. The UK’s loss of its manufacturing base was not because of cheap labour in Japan and China or powerful unions. France and Italy have high labour costs and strong unions but still have their car industries. The UK is steeped in hierarchical, top down organisational structures where communication is mostly one way. “Consultation” is the usual, meaningless attempt to “Involve”, “Include”, “Empower” the staff, however, like the biased questionnaire, the “consultation” is normally limited in scope and feeble in challenge.
Instead of a few managers coming up with ideas for the change, developing the strategy to implement them, let the whole company work out the best ideas and let the workforce implement them. Using many minds is far better than just a few. The people who do the job are far better placed to judge what is required and far more willing to implement their own ideas. When I implemented this concept in the stiff, bureaucratic and change resistant environment of a local council the results were spectacular.
Keep the managers away from the process because they stifle the debate and try to “organise” and “control” the workforce. Managers should facilitate the process not dictate how they achieve their goals.
This “radical new idea” is not radical and is not new. It mirrors what goes on outside the factory where people go about their family life organising their families working with friends and family to organise football games, family parties, weddings, holidays etc. Some will be involved in union activities, gold clubs and darts teams. They are solving problems, juggling with their finances and trying to change the minds and ideas of the people around them all the time. These are transferable skills that if used in the workplace would make everybody far happier and the company far more successful.
Business sustainability pervades every aspect of an organisation. The idea that a few managers could cope with the complexity of implementation is just not rational. The more ludicrous idea that setting up a Corporate Social Responsibility Department to oversee all this is laughable. Especially after we have all witnessed the failure of QA Departments to ensure quality is everyone’s concern not just theirs. Or the often silly dictates from the Health and Safety departments. Of course expertise is required, but apart from a senior manager/director who looks to the long-term strategy they should only act as advisors and facilitators, not decision makers driving the ideas down from the top. As soon as the department is established everyone else wash their hands of the responsibility.
As a Quality Assurance Manager in one company I was attacked by our bullying production manager who had just had a whole batch of products returned as poor quality and he wanted my blood. I told him he misunderstood our roles in quality assurance. His was to tell me how he would achieve his quality objectives and mine was to report when he failed to do what he said he would do. In this case he “saved time” by not checking customer specification changes. ( Actually, I said “I had the easiest job in the world as all I had to do was sit on his back and whip him with ‘failure to comply’ reports when he failed to do what he said he would do.”)
Sustainability like quality, health and safety and environmental policies are all a part of the responsibilities shared by everyone. Not everyone is an expert so advice has to be available from the experts. No need for new expensive departments with high paid “managers” writing reports and procedures or dictating how people should use the dual flush toilets.
The key to this organisational model is trust. Senior managers need to trust their workforce and the workforce need to trust the senior managers. Middle managers should be facilitator not dictators or gate keepers between the top management and the workforce.
Implementation of this radical new view of organisational management cannot be achieved in a hurry but through a series of steps, opening up the top down, bottom up dialogue, changing middle management roles from managers to facilitator, ensuring senior managers do not waver from the objectives, having the courage to see it through and developing the trust required to achieve maximum benefit.
Radical change cannot happen without a radical change in approach happening first.