Change is often initially met with resistance from many employees. Based on his long-term professional experience as a project manager at T.A. Cook Engineers Patrick Schmidt knows that this is a very human reaction. Some people feel the need to maintain the status quo and thus security and stability. That's why his guiding principle for every project is not to simply tear down the walls of resistance, but to inspire employees to adopt new processes through open communication and a practical approach.
Text: Ute Bernhardt
'When the wind of change blows, some build walls and others windmills.' This Chinese saying can also be used as a metaphor for the challenges many companies face during change projects. As soon as transformation is imminent in an organization, for example the introduction of new software, there are employees who 'lay bricks' and others who want to channel the wind of change into positive energy.
"I've become quite good at reading the reaction of employees when I walk into a room," says Patrick Schmidt, who has managed numerous plant shutdowns for clients from various industries over the past 8 years. "There are always some who are fundamentally opposed to change at first. That's a human reaction, because familiar things provide security and therefore stability." But experience has shown him that there are also those advocates who welcome the changes. "When planning and executing shutdowns, we work under time pressure. That's why it's very important to involve the advocates early in the project and establish them as ambassadors. The level of trust that colleagues build among themselves over years can't be achieved by me in a few weeks."
During his last project, the client decided to organize the planning & scheduling for the plant shutdown through a software instead of Excel as before. However, this step was viewed with great skepticism. Most of the plant's employees were convinced that their previous method worked well and saw no need for the introduction of new software, which they felt would unnecessarily complicate their work. So, as a first step, Patrick selected one employee from each of the pro and con camps to join the project team and identify some problems that had been created by the current way of handling things. He then showed both employees how these problems could be solved by using the Primavera software.
"When I demonstrate the added value of a new process, the walls often come down all by themselves," explains Patrick, who worked on the customer and contractor side for many years before joining T.A. Cook and knows the daily routine on the shopfloor very well. "This way employees don't just accept the change because it's a demand 'from the top'. If employees experience that their work is more efficient by using a software, they are much more willing to learn how to use it and to integrate it into their daily routine," he is convinced.
Transparent communication and an open, direct exchange with all employees is very important to Patrick. "I also included one of the most vocal opponents in the project team to send a signal that all opinions are welcome and have their significance. Resistance can be quite helpful, because it is an indication of open questions and potential problems. In the end, sometimes the harshest critics and 'wall builders' become the most committed 'windmill advocates'.