By Wendy Lambourne , director, Legitimate Leadership.
Question of the Month: What are factors to bear in mind with a new-technology transformation in an industrial, unionised worksite?
Answer: From Legitimate Leadership’s experience in industrial transformation projects, the following are indicators:
- Good leadership is at least as important, and often more important, than good technology.
- If you empower the people who actually run the plant rather than throwing technologists (engineering and R&D specialists) and extra people at the problem, you do much better.
- When outsiders treat those who operate the plant as fools, they become fools.
- In any transformation, you need to talk to employees at the start and throughout the process. You need to engage with organised labour through labour (union) structures, no matter how hard this is; and with the people directly (by means of mass meetings, shift meetings and one-on-one meetings between managers and direct reports).
- You can’t plan a transformation in detail up front. Nevertheless no transformation is successful without a clear vision, an overall strategy and a roadmap. Within that you need to act on the opportunities for positive change as they arise in the process (for example, clinching a deal making temps permanent in exchange for flexible work arrangements).
- You need to help managers make the shift to connecting to people as individuals who have individual circumstances and issues as opposed to seeing them as vessels of skills and knowledge, a human resource which you deploy to achieve some result.
- You also need to teach managers how to empower their people (how to trust and entrust them, how to coach them and hold them appropriately accountable). You cannot assume that managers know how to do this.
- Not everyone will survive a transformation – either due to restructuring or because they cannot fulfil the requirements of the role they need to perform. There is a need in any transformation for some tough conversations and letting go of some people.
- The right structures (for instance, levels and shape of the organisation, and conditions of work like shift patterns and flexible working) can be significant enablers of the transformation.
- Transformation is always a combination of enabling the people who are there and bringing in new people who will help with the change. Getting that mix right is important.
- Leadership’s intent in the process is all-important. Why are we doing this? It has to be to secure a viable future for as many people as possible and to realise the best in people as an end in itself.