There's One In Every Crowd

March 1, 2005
Implementing technology is easy. Implementing change is hard.

So, you're facing the challenges—oops—" opportunities" presented by implementing a new system, whether it's complying with RFID mandates, putting in a pick-to-light system, or even implementing bar codes at a new level. Lucky you.

One thing is certain: implementing the technology will be the easy part. Implementing change will be the hard part. Which means there's only one thing to do if you're smart: drop back 10 and PUNT.

Okay, it's a bit late for Super Bowl analogies but don't take "punt" literally. It stands for Prepare, Understand, Notify, and Train. And just what does that mean?

Prepare for opposition. There will always be those who have objections to implementation plans. Listen to them—not because they're necessarily right but because their objections reflect entrenched attitudes and processes you'll need to address.

But you have to listen carefully. Naysayers don't always express their objections clearly and, in fact, may raise a lot of spurious obstacles to obscure their true motivations—whether it's "turf," financial issues, perceived threats, or just plain "Wattitude" and "Tofu."

This column introduced those terms several years ago so a quick review is in order. "Wattitude" (WADITW) stands for "We've Always Done It This Way." "Tofu" (TWWFU) stands for "That Won't Work For Us..." and is usually followed by a "because..." that often has no merit. In many cases, objections are simply an expression of FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt). Nonetheless, they have to be addressed, which is what the U, N, and T is about.

Oh, and, once in a while, even naysayers raise valid issues that need to be resolved.

Understand not just the technology or system you're implementing (its true capabilities and limitations), understand that change is disruptive and that most folks don't enjoy having their world turned upside-down — even a little.

Chances are any system can have a ripple effect on other departments. Something as "simple" as a pick-tolight system will obviously affect the pick/pack/ship operation. Increased efficiency might mean more packers (and fewer pickers) and more frequent shipments.

Beyond that, however, it will improve throughput and may require a shorter replenishment cycle. Billing may be able to go out faster but there may be more short-term payables. There will be more accurate shipments and fewer "make goods" (good news for salespeople, accounting, and inventory personnel) but all this might also require some additional IT resources outside of the initial implementation phase.

Naysayers will come out of the woodwork when you start suggesting changes to their operations.

Notify everyone. Inform your suppliers and employees of your plans, expected changes and anticipated improvements. Notification does invite possibly unwanted attention but, face it, it's better to address objections in the planning stage than to discover a valid objection (aka problem) once implementation begins.

Notify your customers (once you're certain of your deliverables). While it's good PR, you also want to let them know the implementation timetable if there's even the slightest possibility it can affect shipment schedules. They may decide to order a little safety stock to accommodate any short-term glitches in the supply chain. (You don't, of course, suggest that will be the case, you're just keeping them "in the loop.")

Train your people in advance, a little at a time. Familiarize employees (and, if appropriate, other departments) with the idea. Tell them about the new system and how it's going to work. Explain the changes in procedures you anticipate and make sure they understand the reasons behind the implementation (a.k.a., the benefits). Develop standard operating procedures to handle changes and make sure people know about them. You may get more opposition at this point (but you're prepared for it, right?). This is the time to resolve it.

Then, as soon as possible, begin training people on the equipment. But don't try to do it all at once. An intensive, one-day training session that covers all this will be a) tedious, b) painful, and c) about as effective as painting a wall that hasn't been washed: a little of your material might stick but most of it won't.

When you stop and think about it, most of this is stuff you probably already know. But once in a while, you have to remember what you already know in order to benefit from it.

Bert Moore

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