We are living through the most dynamic transportation environment in recent memory. The parcel carriers, in particular, are in a state of flux, with large shifts in service offerings, strategic alliances, and rating logic. Change is the byword of the day. This shifting environment means both opportunity and risk, depending on shippers’ ability to develop and implement strategies in response to this change. However, change doesn’t just happen. You, as a transportation leader, are responsible for driving it. Whether it’s in your title or job description or not, you own at least some of piece of the responsibility, and the more ownership you take, the more valuable you will be to your organizational leadership.
This topic is obviously bigger than a single article can encompass. Therefore, my goal today will be to leave you with a handful of actionable, simple, yet critical components of driving change.
Regardless of the initiative at hand, all required changes have one thing in common: people. Today’s project management and change management methodologies focus almost exclusively on tools. Spreadsheets, timelines, budgets, and other project management devices are necessary components, prerequisites if you will, to effective project management. Without them, tasks will be overlooked, timelines will slip, and chaos will reign. However, in my years of implementing change in large organizations, I have never seen a Gantt chart implement a change, drive acceptance, or change a company’s culture. Albert Einstein said, “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” Thinking implies people, which means your organization’s people are the key to effective change.
Top-down directives are a typical avenue for driving change. And they’re necessary; stakeholders need direction. However, prescriptive directives don’t drive cultural change. The metaphor, “You can’t push a string” is a metaphor for a reason. You, as the change leader, need to take ownership of the cultural shift(s) that must take place. Positive attitude, selling the value, and consistent communication can go a long way in moving the needle of cultural acceptance.
Most project teams are made up of a project manager, one or more executive sponsors, mechanics (those who implement change), and a handful of stakeholders. Therein lies the problem where transportation projects are concerned. Transportation touches nearly every function within an organization. Sales, customer support, operations, production, finance; all of these (and more) have a vested interest in the way transportation works. Yet, too many times, project managers focus exclusively on the defined members of the team. Again, solid mechanics and executive directions are prerequisites, but they cannot and will not drive acceptance and maximize project velocity and value. To truly get the most out of your initiatives:
• Identify key formal stakeholders; those that will realize significant change due to the initiative. Establish an informal communication channel with these stakeholders. Convey the changes to come. Sell the value not only to the organization, but to the individual and his/her area of responsibility. Acceptance is not the goal; rather, embracing change is the optimal path. The only way to get there is to show personal advantage to your formal stakeholders.
• Identify and engage informal cultural leaders. Influence does not come from title alone. In every organization, there are individuals whose influence in their subdomains exceed their formal title. These are your cultural leaders. They are the people who can move an entire workforce past grudging acceptance (and the challenges and complications that come along with that) to full-on endorsement and advocacy. Cynicism is contagious, but so is confidence. Make sure you’re infecting the best carriers early and often.
• The use of informal communications is fine; it can even be preferable as you attempt to strike the right tone. But follow this up with documented communications to ensure accountability.
• As the change becomes imminent, it is natural for you to get pulled deeper into the mechanics. Maintain your situational awareness. You are not the only one feeling nervous and unsure. Stay detached and cast your vision.
• Throughout the process, you will be challenged by objections disguised as constraints. Know how to properly classify these constraints into three buckets: real, fabricated, and malleable, and champion flexibility where and when appropriate.
• Set aggressive, but achievable, timelines. Lost time means lost value.
• If pushed to accept an unachievable timeline, fight like you’re the third monkey on the ark and it’s starting to rain. It will never be easier to re-set expectations than it is before they’re written in ink.
• Communicate delays to all stakeholders as early and quickly as possible. Bad news is like fish; it doesn’t get better with age.
• Push for performance from project mechanics, but don’t swap quality for time. This is one of the best (and most common) ways to lose time and money.
Obviously, there is a lot more to change management than I’ve covered here. But if there’s one thing I hope you take away from this, it is that tools track change, people implement change. And it’s not always the people you think. Be aware of the influence and impact of hidden stakeholders.
Joe Wilkinson is Vice President, Transportation Consulting, enVista.
This article originally appeared in the November/December, 2019 issue of PARCEL.