First line managers are key to the success of a change in operations.
Is change inevitable? Absolutely. Change is necessary. Change can come from the first line manager’s department or elsewhere. Either way, change is the first line manager’s responsibility to implement in his department. The primary value of change is to create goodwill for your organization.
There is an inertia managers must overcome for change to be effective. This inertia is the resistance to change by us all. We do not want things to change. Especially, when we are comfortable with our way of doing things; then, have to learn a new way of doing things.
What will overcome our resistance to change? Necessity and innovation forces us to change. Still change is hard. How can you as a manager understand and use change? Here is my suggestion. Change must be understood in three ways. First, change must be “doable.” Second, Change must be “seeable.” Third, change must be “feelable.” These concepts must be implemented for change to be effective. That is to be repeatable.
A couple of years ago, I attended a class about our company distribution outage system. I have used this system for years. I thought this class would be a good refresher for me.
A criteria of our company is to only record customer power outages if the customer’s power was actually out. I knew for years the method for doing this was too complicated for individuals to use if only part of the customers were out in a three wire circuit. When one wire is out in a three wire circuit; we should create a new outage ticket showing only the customers with power out on this one wire. Then, we must cancel the old trouble ticket. This procedure is very time consuming.
During the class, I asked a question about this problem, “How do we do cancel a ticket and reissue a corrected ticket? “ I knew the procedure was not used. The instructor stated,” This is not a problem, it is simple to create a new ticket.” I asked him to do it. He then realized that all the information must be manually entered in the new ticket. After several attempts he turned to the programmer,” I thought we could cancel the old ticket and transfer the information to the new ticket at the same time.” The programmer said, “We never got that to work.” Now, I said, “The operators and dispatchers do not perform this complicated process.” The class members agreed. The instructor thought this was the way the process worked for years. The instructor said, “We must get this procedure changed.”
The point is, if you want change; the change must be doable. This means if we expect people to adopt a new procedure, it must be simple. Do not fool yourself, if a procedure is too complicated people will not be able to repeat the process consistently. Have patience and be persistent in implementing change so it is repeatable. Do not accept any process that is too complicated, or you will set people up for failure. This “doable” thinking process is what first line managers must do.
Second, Change must be “seeable.” Managers know this is hard. Once you know a procedure is doable, you need to make it seeable. I have done this several times in my career.
On my second day as the new General Manager of a bankrupt motel, I went to the front desk to check the room occupancy. A desk clerk ask me what I was doing behind the desk. I said, “I am seeing how many rooms we have rented.” She said, “You have no right to be here.” I asked her if she like working here. She told me I could not fire her. I immediately agree with her. I reached for the phone called the front desk manager and told him to fire her when he came in. The next day she was gone. I know this sounds harsh. The motel was in bankruptcy. I did not have time to wait for compliance. This action was doable and seeable. This seeable process must be done by the manager. Making change seeable, most times, takes courage.
Third, change must be” feelable.” If a change is effective people feel the change is satisfying their mission; and, that of the company. When change does not meet this criteria, it will always be a burden for people to perform. People will resist or grudgingly perform the procedure. Managers must link change to the mission of the person or the company. If possible, managers should never let a change undermine the current mission of their organization. This feelablity is the most important part of effective change. Feelable is what most companies call, “buy-in.”
Remember, the primary reason for change is to create goodwill for your organization. Here is an example of what we did in our department to create value for our company and good will for us.
For years our Control Center mission was,” When the lights are on keep them on. When the lights go off get them back on as safely and quickly as possible.”
We know power quality is important. We have no system to look at power quality daily. We try to monitor power quality; but, this is not possible for us to perform routinely in the center. People have to manually monitor too many data points. Field forces do perform routine equipment inspections in the field. But right after the inspection the equipment could malfunction.
Our company installed Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) smart meters. Now, we can monitor power quality. Smart meters monitor power quality at the point of electric service to the customer. The meter sends critical information to a data screening program.
Our company decides to have a division engineer manager run a pilot project to develop a procedure to monitor this data. The pilot procedure was to be a repeatable process for the other divisions. When this pilot is done the procedure will be released for companywide use.
I asked our Division Operations Manager to let our control center Operations Assistants monitor this system. They will do this daily. Since the control center operates every day we can respond quickly to any power quality problems. He agreed. Now, I will have to make the change doable, seeable, and feelable. When the pilot is finished; my Department will put the procedure into operation.
I immediately started the “seeable” process; that is, to add to our department’s mission statement. I met with the Operations Assistants to let them know why they were chosen to monitor the system data. I reminded them of our mission about electric service reliability. We have been tops in this area in our company’s measurement for several years. We are now adding to our mission, “We provide quality power.” We will monitor the smart meter data to make sure our power quality meets our company standard. This power quality monitoring will be done on a proactive basis in our company. We will start this procedure soon. The procedure will be an added value to our customers, our department, and you.
We will perform this analysis because we are here each day of the year and have the resources to handle this procedure. This monitoring will make our control center more valuable to our company. In addition, it will make you more valuable. It will give you more insight into how our electrical system works. This knowledge will be valuable to you no matter what job you have in the future.
I handled any questions they had about the procedure. We just had to wait on the pilot program release to start this new procedure. The seeable process started by adding to our mission and expanding the vision of our jobs. A major seeable is that employees see your commitment to a change.
On the third week of my being off for an operation on my foot. The pilot engineer released the program for implementation. I was to be off for five weeks. On a Thursday an Operations Assistant phoned me that an engineering department was implementing the process. I phoned the engineering manager to tell him I was coming in on Monday to start the program in our division. Our control center will handle the program. He agreed to stop the process. I got my doctors approval. On Monday, I will start making a “doable” procedure for our department.
I came into my office on Monday, propped up my foot, and began to look at the data. By the afternoon I was totally confused. The meter graphs were complicated and difficult to reconcile to find a problem. The more I studied the graphs the more confused I got. I began to question the doability of the process. Then I thought, “See it big, keep it simple.” I knew this saying for years. I also believe it was complicated to make something simple. The pilot process was about three paragraphs… manly telling us how to draw the data from the data base. This was too simple.
On Tuesday, I came in still confused. I was looking for a simple solution to this complicated program. Then I got it. It was not an analysis problem; it was an investigation problem. The meter information was no more than the red light shining on a car dashboard. You take the car to a mechanic to investigate the cause.
So in collaboration with the Operations Assistants we developed an investigation procedure. The procedure included a determination of what device we thought malfunctioned on our system. The type investigation order to issue to the field. The field person to investigate the problem. The tracking system to follow all the problems and the correction of each. This made the procedure simpler. This procedure changed the information from an analysis problem to and investigation problem. If a meter showed up in the data; it was not our mission to analyze the meter data. It was our mission to investigate the problem in the field. The written procedure we developed covered four pages. This investigation process became doable.
Was there resistance to the procedure implementation? Yes. Operation assistants thought they would never understand the procedure. Lineman did not know how to test equipment. Field Supervisors did not want the hassle they were getting from the linemen. Engineers did not like the extra work the line crews got from our investigations. But the procedure was doable. The seeable part was my involvement in overcoming this resistance until we could get to the feelable, “buy-in. “
The feelable buy-in of the employee came because of our dedication to the new mission statement, “We provide quality power.” We found these power problems; because, the new process showed us where to look.
I sent out a report the first several months about the problems we found on our electric system. The first month we found: 47 transformer problems, 12 bad meters, 4 regulator problems, and 2 meters with bad lugs. Of course, we found fewer equipment problems over time. This report was a critical part of the seeable; because it supported the feelable.
We took the smart meter big data and made it doable. Operations Assistants and Operators see they make a difference in the power quality we delivered our customers. They perform this process daily.
Several months later, I received a call from an engineer in our sister company. He had contacted our corporate headquarters to get information on how our company was interrogating our smart meters for voltage problems. The sister company was just starting the process. The corporate person told him to contact me. I sent him the procedure. The next day I asked for his feedback. He liked the procedure, they are going to implement it. Change creates value for your company.
Our company procedure was repeatable because it is doable, seeable, and feelable. Making change doable is becoming more difficult for a first line manager. This difficulty comes from the vast amount of data in big data systems. These systems give us more variables to consider. The search engines to access this data are complicated. Managers must find ways to make this vast amount of data into simple procedures for people to understand and follow.
First line managers are key to making change effective in their department and their company. Making procedures doable, seeable, and feelable is key to their success.