Change is either something we resist, as we're dragged toward it, kicking and screaming the whole way; or it's something we embrace, knowing we do so to keep our businesses and careers current, relevant, and vibrant. As one of the world's oldest professions, the Logistics industry definitely has a history of reflecting both of these very 'normal' reactions to change.
There are still many companies mired in their age-old habits. They initiate change only when something in their business has come to a critical breaking point or they are being driven to it by customer demand for things like accommodating web tracking and EDI feeds. Change becomes an even tougher challenge when time is not on your side and you view it as a negative.
Yet there is also a growing cohort of creative thinkers among the world’s forwarders who challenge the status quo and reward creativity, so change becomes their daily norm. There’s nothing better than a corporate culture constantly striving for improvement. They see change as an opportunity rather than a threat.
Embracing a culture of change doesn't have to be difficult or painful. You don’t need all the answers, just start with the questions. Once you've determined where you need to be, then ask: “What do we need to do?” and “How do we get there?” It’s unlikely you’ll be breaking completely new ground because someone will have come and gone before you. Follow that path, leverage their experiences, and learn the lessons left along the way. It will save you time and money.
Implementing new ERP software is one of the major roads a company can travel. Size is no longer a pre-qualifier for adopting sophisticated, yet affordable, cloud-based technologies. It’s amazing to see two companies implement the exact same software, but end up with two drastically different results, simply due to how they managed the change. Installing new software does not necessarily mean organizational change is a precursor, but, because it can have such a significant impact, it’s often used as an impetus for broad-reaching progress.
By managing change, it becomes a living thing rather than a bogey man. It becomes an embracing agile development that prioritizes individuals and interactions over processes. It becomes working solutions over static documentation.
The change bogey man can scare a lot of people, but in today’s workplace, managing change is what keeps people relevant. I worry for those who openly oppose change and hurt their careers. They think emotionally and negatively, rather than rationally and logically. I know, they’re only human, but being human, they can just as easily respond positively when the right approach is taken.If you start down the path to change and find others are not embracing it, then the fault may lie in how the change is managed. People talk about ‘selling’ change. This is a great concept as you can’t force change. If you try to force change on staff, there will be problems. Selling has to be subtle, as most people see through overzealous campaigning. Don’t sell, just explain. In today’s parlance, that’s called socializing the change experience, and if time is on your side, socialize early.
Start at the Top
Successful organizational change depends on appropriate management and executive buy-in. Your people need to understand that it is a management initiative from the top supported by the CEO. I have seen a tough-as-nails former-Marine manager back off from an implementation date at the first sign of mutiny from his staff. Conversely, I was impressed by another manager that called everyone into a room with competitors’ logos on display. The CEO asked if the team felt their company was better than all these, and he received a resounding “Yes!” The implementation manager stepped forward and announced they were undertaking the same software conversion – the same change – the competition already had, only “our company will do it better.” He then handed out “concert tour” t-shirts with the project name and launch dates on the back.
Outline the objective and move towards it. There will be unforeseen, negative complications and obstacles, but the project must be flexible enough to overcome these hurdles in stride.
Too often I've seen forwarders fail to implement software because they fail to implement change. They invest in the latest software only to try, uselessly, to make it do what their old software did, the very things that drove them to seek a replacement in the first place. They fall into this counter-productive cycle because they couldn't manage the change.
Better Technology Delivers the Early Wins
Logistics Devices-as-a-Service – that integrate back office logistics with mobility devices and telematics – is a game changer. When your software provider takes on the selection and set up, in-vehicle installation and maintenance of your dispatching equipment there are no longer huge gaps preventing organizations from moving to new technologies. It’s the same with the Cloud. It makes change agile. You won’t lose momentum with lengthy, procedural implementations. Success is within reach from the start. You get the early wins that show everyone the benefits of change.
To hold onto its place as the facilitator of world trade, our industry is having to take the matter of change, and its management, very seriously. It has already accommodated more change in the last two decades than in the hundred years prior, and it’s a pace that’s unlikely to slacken any time soon.
The US Customs Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) – the primary system through which the trade community will report imports and exports – is one current initiator of change. ACE compliance is mandated for late 2015, so a vast number of forwarders are being driven to find new software because their current solution won’t accommodate it. These implementations of the latest logistics software have two aims: how fast and painlessly can we check the ACE box, and, while we’re at it, we may as well change a few other things.
Embrace change as a welcome part of your everyday management.
Gene Gander is VP of Business Development, Americas for WiseTech Global
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