How do you feel about change?

As a general rule only about 20 percent of the general population are "change-friendly." They are the individuals who are willing to embrace change and perhaps even be an advocate for change. Another 50 percent of the folks are "fence sitters." They assume a neutral position, trying to figure out which way to lean. These people are not hostile to change, but they are not willing, without considerable prompting, to make change happen. The other 30 percent are the "resisters." They do not like change and will be antagonistic toward change and often make deliberate attempts to thwart change.

Assuming that employees within a facilities management organization follow typical norms the same percentages will exist. Some will embrace change, others will resist change, and the majority will adopt a "wait and see" attitude.

The term "continuous improvement" implies change. If there is a desire to improve a process, alter an attitude, or enhance an end product, some form of change must take place. Because we live and function within a rapidly changing world, change is inevitable. Technological improvements demands change. Technology is advancing so fast that change occurs in the "way things are done" at a staggering and ever-increasing pace. The world is changing. Changes are taking place within your institution. And changes are taking place within your facilities management organization.

Rather than dwell on the concept of change, perhaps it is more productive (and less threatening) to think in terms of improvement. And in a rapidly changing environment, the concept naturally becomes a continuously improving process.

In today's fast-paced world, the most successful organizations--including those that manage facilities--are committed to doing well those functions that are basic to the organization. They recognize that since everything around them is changing, they too must change or their methods, processes, and products will become obsolete. Therefore, continual improvement becomes the guarantee of survival and success.

Organizations that are successful focus on excellence and quality. They recognize that their products and services must be of superior quality, deliver good value, and improve with every iteration.

When an organization correctly implements quality improvement programs, everyone wins. The customer is happy with the product or service, employees take pride in and feel better about their jobs, and management is motivated to implement further improvements rather than just "putting out fires."

So if everyone wins, why are not all organizations involved in programs and initiatives that lead to improvement, excellence, and quality?

It seems to me there are at least four reason why some organizations have not joined the continuous improvement movement.

  1. Unaware of benefits. Some organizations do not seem to understand the benefits received from implementing such programs and initiatives. If things are going pretty well, people may not be looking for additional improvement. The old saying, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," seems to be the company motto. These organizations are comfortable in their complacency.
  2. Improvement requires change. To get better, change is necessary. Many times, management is not willing to challenge the status quo. They let the "resisters" and "fence sitters" (who are the majority) reign over the "change friendly" minority. The barrier to change seems to be impenetrable. The battle cry, "we have always done it this way," carries the day.
  3. Unconcern. There are organizations that know all about quality, excellence, and continuous improvement but they just don't care. They are convinced that no one else really cares whether or not changes are made. And even if they did change, would anyone notice?
  4. Too busy putting out fires. Some organizations are so focused on solving daily problems and dealing with emergencies that no time is left to consider alternatives. Their crisis mode of management demands so much attention that there is never any time left to analyze the cause.

Organizations that resist change (for whatever the reason) may not survive. As their methods, programs, products and service become outdated, outmoded, obsolete, and antiquated, they are likely candidates for extinction much like the dinosaur. Some will surely fall by the wayside and be replaced by firms and organizations that are proactive in delivering quality products and services.

Well, is the situation hopeless for those organizations that have yet to "see the light" and be converted to receive the salvation offered by continuous improvement? Not really. There are some steps that can be taken to improve quality. Typically, organizations must walk before they run. An old Chinese proverb says, "A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step." There are several recognized measures that may be followed in order to improve quality within the organization.

  1. Decide to improve. This is perhaps the most important step because it is the first one. Seize the opportunity to pursue quality and don't procrastinate. Do it today.
  2. Measure your success. It is extremely difficult to improve something you can't measure. If you want to improve your customer satisfaction level, you must first know your current level of customer satisfaction. If you want to improve your work order system, you must know what elements are creating the problem and how changes can be monitored.
  3. Get comfortable with change. Understand the people-problems associated with change. Understand the dos and don'ts. People resist change (even the change-friendly types) when they don't understand the need for change or fear they will lose something of value. It is important, therefore, to involve those affected by change in the program.
  4. Keep raising the bar. Obviously, continuous improvement is not a one-time effort. No matter how successful you are today, you will secure your future only by continuing to raise your standards.
  5. Keep learning about quality improvement. Study successful organizations and benchmark with your peers. Find out what works and what doesn't work. Attend workshops, seminars and quality improvement programs. Read. Network with your peers. Ask questions. Keep an open mind. The more you know the more effectively you can compete.

For those interested in making change, your job is to justify the struggle and to aim your people toward something special. Plato said, "Those having torches will pass them to others." It's your role to carry the fire and pass the torch. Your survival and that of your organization may depend on it.