Project Management meets Packaging - Part I: Change Management
Using project management principles to deal with current topics in the plastic packaging industry - Change is a constant part of our life and our industries. Change has to occur in order to embrace new ideas, engage with latest technologies and to keep up to date with the newest consumer requests. Without change our businesses become stagnant, won’t be competitive any longer and will disappear in the long run.
Change management in this context deals with changes in a business environment on a strategic level. It does not contain detailed change management processes within a specific project such as change orders or change management board. Change management, as a sub-discipline of project management, can help to avoid common mistakes, give guidelines what to watch out for and thereby guarantee successful implementations of new systems, updated processes or innovative mindsets. Change is necessary to ensure the survival of your business and is always required if for example revenue, quality of products or loyalty of employees needs to be raised, or on the other hand production costs, errors and waste during manufacturing need to be reduced. So basically, every business decision you make is linked to some change within the company.
As there is no escaping changes in our fast moving commercial environment, it is important to understand what the impacts of changes are and how to deal with them in an efficient and pro-active manner.
Each change within a business will follow a change curve with its respective ups and downs regarding participation of the teams and individuals which are impacted by the change. Participation relates to various work tasks which have to be carried out as part of standard processes. Depending on the phase in which the change currently is in, certain actions should be taken to support a positive outcome.
At the premonition phase people are usually not sure about what is going to change. They might have heard some rumours, but it is not 100 percent clear that something is indeed going to change and what it will involve. Hence, they are concerned but also slightly hopeful about what the future will bring. Usually not much information is available at this stage and people will cling on to every bit of news they can receive, regardless its sources. It is therefore never too early to start communicating about upcoming activities regarding the change process. Getting people on board as soon as possible can reduce the surprise effect and lessen the amplitude of the following shock phase.
During the shock phase participation sinks as people usually don’t under- stand why certain changes must be implemented. Especially if communication has been poorly conducted and no supporting material has reached the individuals yet, participation can be drastically reduced.
In the defence phase participation rises but only to fight against the change with an attitude of “That’s never going to work!” or indeed a fiight reaction – “I will just continue doing what I have been doing for the last 20 years!”. This phase must be anticipated whenever a change is being introduced and should be met new technologies, methods or company visions are tried and tested with growing participation.
Fig 1: Change management curve – participation of involved parties over time © adensio GmbH
Once people are confident that they can handle the change and have integrated the new ways into their everyday work, the change is fully accepted. It will now be positively communicated to others as well. This is an important point in the roll- out of any change as this communication counts a lot more than any top-down statement from management level or official marketing campaign. It is therefore good practice to initially pick a small number of “champions”, people with an open attitude and positive mindset, which will be exposed to the change first. Once these have successfully reached the integration phase, their positive communication to others which are still stuck in processing the change, will have an immensely large impact on setting a positive example. It will show that this change can be dealt with in a constructive manner and that at the end it will be helpful to all people involved.
No matter what the goal of the change was, using the updated software, 3D printer or filling process, it will over time become the new habit and eventually the participation will level out to normal again – until the next change management process is initiated.
Change takes time and communication is key. Any change should not be rushed into an established and running business environment. A change management plan is necessary to coordinate the required information and communication flow in the various change phases. It can take up to three years to confidently establish new processes so that they are no longer regarded as “new” but appreciated as “that’s how we do it here”.
As we have seen above in the change management curve, the biggest concern in any change are the people and how the change can be made part of their mindset. It doesn’t matter if a new capping system has to be installed, a new cleaning robot is being introduced or indeed if the company changes its strategic tactic and focuses on circular economy with a zero-waste approach from now on. If the mindset of involved teams and individuals is not supporting the change and if the people are not fully embracing new ideas how to keep the business sustainable in the future, the change management process will fail.
In general, it is important to be aware and understand that people are apprehensive of change as it requires to give up existing, proven habits which have been carefully developed over many years, in return for something new and unfamiliar. Thus, the emotional impact on everyone exposed to the change cannot and should not be ignored. Resistance to change is therefore usually not something that people deliberately do because of bad intentions. It is just their way of dealing with the unknown in a situation where they are frightened and not sure about the final outcome. Leading by example with a positive attitude is crucial in situations like this. Very often companies temporarily engage external change management experts to support them with this big challenge to ensure that the change is properly implemented and successfully established in the long-run.
Fig 2: Resistance to change (Image by Alan O’Rourke)