The change triumvirate

It was almost a throw-away line — one of those comments that isn't expected to get much reaction. We were just finishing a nice lunch, about to say our goodbyes, when he dropped it on me. "He" is Bill Maggard, one of the pioneers in bringing total productive maintenance (TPM) to the U.S., an author (TPM That Works: The Theory and Design of Total Productive Maintenance), and frequent conf...
By Richard L. Dunn, Chief Editor August 9, 2004

It was almost a throw-away line — one of those comments that isn’t expected to get much reaction. We were just finishing a nice lunch, about to say our goodbyes, when he dropped it on me.

“He” is Bill Maggard, one of the pioneers in bringing total productive maintenance (TPM) to the U.S., an author ( TPM That Works: The Theory and Design of Total Productive Maintenance ), and frequent conference speaker, now happily retired — for the second time. Bill has a disarming, kind of a “good ol’ boy” personality. But his mind is so sharp, his talk so peppered with nuggets of wisdom that you just want to sit back and absorb every minute of his conversation.

So, Maggard dropped this line on me, and I’ve been mulling it since: “For any initiative to succeed, you have to address the social, the technical, and the business aspects. All three.”

I’ll bet that you, like me, have seen a number of initiatives come and go. In many plants, they have been facetiously called the “program of the month.” People who study these things say that 60%-80% of change initiatives fail, with the most common estimate being 70%. Why is it that so many change initiatives fail?

If we use Maggard’s triumvirate, we might be inclined to say that the business and technology aspects are relatively easy to deal with; the problem must be social. And, according to all the change gurus out there, we’d be right.

Sure, initiatives fail because they’re underfunded, or the market changes, or any number of things go awry. And technology can be an enormous challenge. But people are the real bugaboo. Indeed, nearly all of the literature on change management concentrates on the social aspects. The Gartner Group reports that insufficient attention to cultural change management and process issues is the leading cause of failure 65% of the time.

Change management advisors generally talk about the necessity for driving change from the top down. But Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization and The Dance of Change: The Challenge of Sustaining Momentum in Learning Organizations , takes exception to this. In an interview with Knight Ridder News Service, he said:

“There’s a truism that leaders have to drive change. I think that’s nonsense. It reinforces helplessness and lack of responsibility from the rest of the organization. My concern is the organization as a whole will not be a very competitive organization if it needs to depend on one or two people to drive change. I’m not saying top managers are not important. What I am saying is that the effective leadership role of top management is changing.”

Sue Ells, head of change management and diagnostics for Syntegra, sums the situation nicely: “Successful change is about integrating people, processes, and technology, beginning with the people and staying close to them throughout the project.”

So whether you’re at the top, in the middle, or near the bottom of a change initiative, remember: Business, technology, and social aspects must all be satisfied, but the greatest of these is social.