Management

Face of Quality: Counter Resistance to Change

Quality professionals who find themselves in a continual improvement role can become frustrated with resistance to change. They sometimes equate it to a lack of management support, but this may not be entirely accurate.

It might be that resistance to change, or the lack of management support, is more about the value of the proposed change itself and less about reluctance to move forward. It might be that the bigger issue is whether the proposed change is a good idea or not. Will the potential outcome from the change exceed the status quo plus the effort to achieve the outcome?

Recently a young quality engineer at a smaller manufacturing firm complained to me about the lack of management support and her perception of the resistance to make a change. As we discussed her proposal, it seemed poorly thought out and potentially counterproductive or even conflicting with her organization’s overall strategic initiatives. Even from an outsider, and someone not unfamiliar with change management, it was not surprising she was encountering resistance to her idea.

When proposing or driving change it is critical to do your homework and know, with a high degree of certainty, that the change is doable, will deliver on expectations, and result in value to the value chain. Proposing change that hasn’t been fully analyzed or doesn’t consider the overall impact to the value chain will almost always result in resistance.

Quality professionals understand the need for both consistent, repeatable processes, and also the need for change to make them better. Without change, processes become stagnant and can result in death to the organization, but carelessly altering an existing formula can cause chaos and become counterproductive. Therefore, it is critical that appropriate due diligence has been performed before proposing a change that upsets the stability of the status quo and results in a high-risk maneuver.

The stability of established processes has great value. Established processes take little time to manage and provide an effective and efficient work environment. They exist in their current form for a reason—they help provide guidelines and structure for producing products and services. Certainly this doesn’t mean they should not, or cannot, be improved. However, sometimes an established process may not appear to be efficient because the change proposer is only considering those factors affecting his or her job.

People who drive change for personal gain do so at the expense of the organization. Those who advocate change without considering the big picture deserve to have their ideas shot down, and they should learn from the experience rather than complain about resistance to change or lack of management support.

It comes down to the importance of being right about our proposals. Those proposing change need to understand the whole business, do their homework, and get key people onboard with the proposal so they become supporters.

The status quo does have value and it is not wrong for people to seriously question changes to challenge currency. When change proposers do their homework, the protectors of the status quo will be less resistant to change and can be convinced to alter the way things are done. If the proposal affects other areas of the organization, talk to those leaders to see how their business will be affected and solicit input to make enhancements so everyone can support the change. Always seek a win-win scenario where protectors of the status quo become less resistant to the change and become advocates. (Readers might refer to the steps included in “Selling Your Idea,” in the May 2012 issue of Quality.)

We can all look at our organizations and processes to see boundless opportunities to implement changes that can significantly improve performance. The status quo allows us to work efficiently, but the business world changes rapidly and the need for improvement is constant.

The key message is to ensure our proposals for change are well thought out, will deliver real value beyond the status quo, and have the support of key decision-makers. Isn’t this what real quality professionals strive to achieve? If we are successful, resistance to change becomes a non-issue. As a result, the credibility and value of the change agent, who is often a quality professional, to the organization is increased. Now is the time to make a real difference for your organization and at the same time enhance your career.


Jim L. Smith has more than 45 years of industry experience in operations, engineering, research & development and quality management. You can reach Jim at faceofquality@qualitymag.com.

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