As I was pursuing my MBA, I enrolled for an advanced Operations class. After all, I was in the field of Operations and convinced myself the next quarter would not require much time and effort. Sound familiar? On the first night of class the professor walked into the class room, put down his stack of papers and overheads (yes this was before IPads), glanced around the room and grumbled his opening comment, “the only constant in operations is change!” There was nothing profound in that comment, hearing it many times before. But I was to find out what it meant over the next 10 weeks! As in many MBA classes either in the traditional setting or online, case studies are used to analyze concepts relevant to the area under study. This graduate level operations class was no exception. But this professor’s take on the topic was a bit different. We were to study firm’s that ended up failing due to missteps in the operation’s strategy. Hang on, are we not supposed to study success? Is that not what benchmarking teaches us? To look for the best and then emulate so your firm’s performance may also gain from this new learning?
What this tenured professor was trying to share with us was reluctance to change at the appropriate time will lead to a firm’s demise. One such example he used was the ice harvesting industry. He looked around the room and asked if anyone recalls this industry. There was no response. He went on to share the purpose of ice harvesting in the New England area and how the business and industry flourished over the years. In addition, from an operations perspective many tools were designed to enhance the efficiencies of ice harvesting and distribution to as far away as China on insulated ships. However, as artificial ice making methods were introduced, the ice harvesting industry continued to compete by adding new efficiencies and reducing costs to their current methods as well as devising better methods to distribute ice. The firm’s demise came shortly after the electric refrigerator was invented. Our professor concluded this was a case study in a firm’s failure to be part of the technological changes that effect many industries. During the session we went on to study other failed firms that followed similar operational strategies as ice harvesting.
So what did I, an aspiring MBA student, learn? The key take away was the need to include change management within your firm’s daily work. Driving innovation is an important piece of this work but equally important is to remain diligent to the environment and external forces that may someday render you obsolete. Change management does not mean all innovation must be created from within. In fact quite the opposite. Using outside resources to help drive change is fully acceptable. At the extreme, mergers and acquisitions are conceived in to order to leverage the best of both organizations and create change. In many cases partnerships even amongst competitors is clearly acceptable. Promoting and rewarding change management should be instilled throughout the organization. Operationally it may help you achieve lower costs and increase market share. Or it may buy time until you devise a new and better mouse trap.
That said change management must be a daily topic of conversation. Alcoa coined the term Imagineering (Imagination and Engineering). Is that not the foundation of change management? Well at least it is a good starting point!
Related Benedictine Programs
If you are interested in learning more about how to better manage change, check out Benedictine’s Management and Organizational Behavior program, which offers courses on Strategies for Change, Organizational Development, and Organizational Assessment. Benedictine University also offers a Bachelor of Arts in Organizational Leadership. To learn how an online degree from Benedictine can help you with change management talk to a Program Manager today.
About the Author
Pete Papantos is an operations director at a Fortune 500 company. He is responsible for the global execution of their strategic plan and driving operational excellence using lean methods. In addition, Pete is a graduate instructor with emphasis in operations and strategic management — both in traditional and online settings.