Thursday, August 19, 2010

Change Management => The Costs of Efficiency Can Be High

“Two more days,” my friend groaned-sighed as I was driving her home Wednesday evening.

“You used to like your job,” I said.

“I loved my job. I used to love my job. Now I just go in and try to make it through the day.”

A year ago my friend ‘s department was reorganized. Everyone in her area was either laid off, quit or transferred. She was moved to a different building, and she got a new supervisor. She was nervous about all the changes, even though she was receiving a slight promotion. (“A forced promotion,” she called it.) So to help her look on the positive side of this transition, we held a barbecue for her with a “Dress for Success” theme. We added padded shoulder blazers to our shorts and partied on a friend’s patio.

Her job changed significantly. She had to learn new processes to accomplish the same ultimate outcome as in her old job, only this way was supposed to be more efficient, and better for the bottom line, as well as the customer. In this case I can’t speak for the bottom line or the customer, just for my friend, the front line employee.

My friend works for a hospital, one of the hospitals mentioned in this July 10th The New York Times article, Factory Efficiency Comes to the Hospital. These hospitals have adopted a Japanese efficiency system that is widely accredited to Toyota, and now taught by them. (Toyota actually learned these processes from American management guru Dr. W. Edwards Deming.) “The program, called “continuous performance improvement,” or C.P.I., examines every aspect of patients’ stays at the hospital, from the time they arrive in the parking lot until they are discharged, to see what could work better for them and their families." According to the article, “checklists, standardization and nonstop brainstorming with front-line staff and customers can pay off.”

From what my friend says, the checklists and standardization are overwhelming. It took her quite a while to finally master them, with a few tears along the way. In the first few weeks, she didn’t know if she could get a grasp on everything. “Hang in there,” I told her. “It will all fall into place eventually." Tonight my friend told me they hired a new employee a few weeks ago who is still struggling and can’t be left on her own even though she has had two weeks of one-to-one training on the procedures.

And the “nonstop brainstorming with frontline staff”? Non-existent. Oh yes, she was told to let them know what suggestions she has. But she says that’s useless since they don’t listen to her.

After breaking down a few times at work and coming down with a case of hives, she has finally found how to deal with the stress. “I just tell them ‘You created this, not me. I’m the one who has to figure out how to deal with it, and this is the way I’m dealing with it.’ Then I take my time and work at my own pace. It’s not worth trying to get everything done as fast as they want it. Some of those doctors and nurses are really demanding and rude. My health is more important than paperwork.”

I’ve offered to help her get her resume up to speed. Life is too short to be under so much stress all the time. It’s been a year, and the reorganization has not settled down and smoothed out. Management has put too much emphasis on “factory efficiency” and forgotten about the effects on real people. In this case, a loyal, long-term employee has become just a cog in the wheel of efficiency.

Incorporating change always takes longer than we think it will. A lot has been written about how to introduce and implement change, but rarely does management follow the advice, even if they are aware of it. The costs of poorly implemented change are high, and not just to the bottom line. The costs to human psyche and health can be deep.

According to Brain Rules author Dr. John Medina, the type of stress my buddy is going through affects our brains in all types of negative ways, including reducing productivity. Sounds like just the opposite of what management’s goal is.

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