The three monkeys of organizational optimization

Sometimes it can be annoying, this “faster, higher, further” that we have to constantly pursue in our companies in order to stay on the ball. But if you stop improving, you stop being good. This insight sounds hackneyed because we are constantly reminded to drive productivity and efficiency in our companies.

Productivity increases are only partly the result of purely technical improvements to machines, systems, software and hardware. Many technical improvements can only be used profitably if we get the people involved to participate, and another part of productivity is based solely on the willingness of employees to comply with new organizational processes.

Unfortunately, at least some of the employees in our companies are not very enthusiastic about taking up and trying out new ideas, accepting new organizational processes or trying out new ways of thinking.

Anyone involved in organizational change knows the three monkeys whose resistance they can reliably count on. Just like the three conspecifics who don’t want to see, hear or speak, they also refuse to accept reality: “We’ve never done that before!”, “We’ve always done it that way” or “In principle, we already do it that way!”, they say.

The third line of argument is the most clever, as it recognizes the new ideas on the surface, but relativizes their effects. In such cases, I always point out that soapbox racing and Formula 1 racing basically do the same thing, albeit at completely different levels.

Every second management book deals with the question of why organizational change meets with resistance and how this resistance can be overcome. However, I have not yet heard of a patent strategy that always works. There will probably not be such a patent strategy, because sometimes resistance is necessary because not every new organizational concept makes sense.

In over twenty years in the field, I have identified three strategies that have helped me time and again to overcome resistance to new technical and organizational concepts in logistics and production: Decisiveness on the part of decision-makers, factual arguments instead of incantations and small groups of those affected.

Nothing can replace the decisiveness of the decision-makers. Just as a dog senses its master’s hesitation, the workforce has a sense of the boss’s hesitation. If the boss is not firmly in favor of the new solution, the three monkeys are immediately taken out of the cage. In reorganization projects where quick and decisive action is needed, I point out to everyone that everyone only has the choice of being part of the solution or part of the problem. However, this only has a lasting effect if those who have chosen the side of the problem also have to bear the consequences quickly. Many, including senior managers, are more administrators than creators.

Arguments for change are often exchanged in discussion battles that have a lot to do with the different inner convictions of those involved, but little to do with figures, data and facts.

At least at middle and higher hierarchical levels in companies that have a certain understanding of the overall context, facts can be convincing – if you can put them on the table. This requires new approaches in the design and testing of solutions, such as simulation methods. Of course, the latter also require a high level of qualification and routine on the part of those carrying out the simulations. The simulation approach therefore usually requires – at least today – an external consultant.

If you want to convince a lot of people of your arguments, it takes a lot of communication time and training at the very least. If the solution is then not implemented as intended, you are often faced with a gray mass in which those who are unwilling, insufficiently qualified and – let’s be honest – unqualifiable can hardly be identified. If possible, it is usually more successful to proceed according to the pearl necklace principle and string one compact, already radiant project pearl after the next onto the chain of changes. Few of those affected can be convinced and qualified with less effort, cannot hide so easily and are easier to retrain.

Picture of Prof. Dr. Andreas Kemmner

Prof. Dr. Andreas Kemmner

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