The manufacturing industry has been one of the most affected by recent technological innovations. By changing production lines, the digital transformation has had an impact on management and work organisation within companies, which often occurs without official training or support to employees. Establishing a change management policy should be a priority for all companies faced with these technological breakthroughs.
After emergence, comes mistrust
In the past decade, the “industry 4.0” and “industry of the future” concepts have become major challenges to manufacturers. It is a shift that inevitably brings about changes and adaptation. Increased automation of production lines and the rising number of new digital tools (for example, mobile terminals, augmented reality, etc.) is transforming how work is done. Production operators and their managers are seeing the scope of their activities expand beyond their trade, but they also have to be versatile in their jobs.
Taylorism, a model that breaks down tasks and determines how each one is to be performed in advance, is on the way out. The modern employee must be multi-skilled, show initiative and be capable of handling complex issues in unusual situations. Paradoxically, with this new form of organisation, managers’ roles are also changing. Giving everyone more independence reshapes how teamwork is organised. Today’s managers are therefore both regulators and leaders, while also retaining their legitimacy to exert the authority that is simultaneously called for and criticised by their subordinates.
However, change is often met with mistrust by employees. Whether it involves a reorganisation of work structure or the implementation of new tools, teams rarely accept enforced disruption. This generally reflects the failure of management to include all of their employees in the transformation process. Adding a training session as an afterthought is not enough: operational teams must play a central role in the digital transformation, which means starting at the project’s genesis. It is essential that employees’ needs are incorporated when choosing the tools, because they are the ones who will use them and have a better understanding of what is required.
Change management to help the rollout phase
A changing work environment is a significant challenge for manufacturers. Users therefore need to be brought on board and the adoption of the new tools needs to be made easy, when there is a complex organisational structure (for example, across company departments, sites, cultures, etc.). It is essential to adopt a “change management by design” approach. To better handle employee
resistance (which will certainly arise), a group effect needs to be created. The aim is to identify “change leaders” – employees that are better equipped to design, accept, adopt and generate the visible gains of change for the rest of the company, to create a domino effect.
While this role is often given to managers, they are not always the best influencers! It is better to analyse the situation and the people involved, so that the right leaders can be chosen. Irrespective of the method chosen, there will always be resistance from parts of the company. However, it is important not to ignore it, especially so that realistic goals can be set – it is utopian thinking to believe that all employees will be open to change — but also to identify the actions to be carried out that focus on those who resist change.
Influence behaviours to spark change
The real challenge of change management is to link an action to a need, and organise it in a well thought-out, logical way so that a change management plan can be drawn up for the entire transformation cycle. It is important to note that from an individual perspective, to achieve behavioural change, there are four drivers of action: knowledge, comprehension, willpower and capacity. The driver that requires the most effort is WILLPOWER: this calls on each employee’s personal motivation and is therefore harder to stimulate. The ability to convince teams to accept this new paradigm requires the greatest effort, without question. Often, this means helping them to get to grips with the new methods.
Change must not be seen as something purely individual, nonetheless: an employee is part of a group and follows an organisational structure. Establishing change must therefore be supported by a series of adaptation measures, put in place by the company. These measures may involve creating new teams, promoting a new organisational chart, and a focus on learning. Remember, this does not mean “drastically” changing the corporate culture; rather, the new concepts are rooted in that culture.
The introduction of a change management policy is a long-term project and requires planning ahead. Too often, companies simply organise “training” at the end of the rollout phase. It is essential that training be taken into consideration as early as possible in the strategy and assessments conducted throughout the process. This will highlight the successes as well as the failures that structure change, and which help overcome obstacles that may arise. When manufacturers are faced with disruption as significant as Industry 4.0, it is crucial that they see change as a human process.