While innovation is a must, you need to deal with resistance to change

by Giovanna Combatti
Alberto, the CEO, had been newly appointed by the international group to lead the 600 people distributed in five manufacturing plants. The company produces pumps and electrovalves, components for the appliance industry, where R&D/engineering area was the key one.
Alberto’s challenge was a big one: leading  company from a previous family owned company towards a managerial company belonging to an international group.
Trasforming company from a one single product to  an enterprise with three principal divisions, from standard products to creating customized solutions.
That meant enlarging customer base, from local customer to international groups with higher level counterparts. 
One day, during a meeting with me, the Ceo said :
“Giovanna, I understand that I need to increase the speed and method here.  I’m sure I have people with abilities and skills but I don’t know and management neither, where these skills are.
I need a more scientific approach and an orientation to innovation in order to reach qualitative and quantitative goals in the short as well medium-long term . Shouldn’t we change, we will not face competition and customers will soon chose some other supplier. Within our management team we shared the need of developing younger talents and at same time we need to engage experienced specialized people as well.”
The story, that day went on and on: “the story of the company tells that anyone here was directly linked to the entrepreneur, who made all of the decisions: people are not used at all to make suggestions, make improvement proposals, take the ownership of the project they are working on”.
In the management team some skepticism was there : “they will never change !”  the work style here is based on “I have always done like this” and “at five I’m finished by any chance”.
Decision was made:  “ let’s start involving  a first group of twenty younger R&D people (32-38 yrs old, most of them recently new hired).”
At first meeting with younger R&D, purchasing, customer service people , while introducing the project steps, one engineer took me aside and said to me: “very nice project but I need to be sure that each training day I’ll be out at five pm”. Another one told me: “sorry but I will not be able to join the training days that require an overnight: on Saturdays I have other things to do”.
The program went on and on, along six months. Management team and CEO were providing support, with some presence during some parts of the development project,  by meeting some of the people that, day after day, were starting to ask them questions: awareness was slowly but surely increasing, starting to see things differently and increasingly enjoying the richness coming from staying within the group, exchanging ideas, getting support from each other, getting to know their workmates.
Soon after a first project  phase, decision was made to start some project works on specific concrete issues going around in that period, needing to be improved and changed. About product improvements as well process improvements. Five project team works where appointed on five issues.
A project management training supported the people how to deal with the project, to proceed with method, within rules and given timing.
One of the issues had to do with a valve that was constantly getting customer claims, as well as claims from internal maintenance and purchasing: a significant amount of scrap during the manufacturing of that valve, at the wire winding had been the problem since months, turning out to be a constant significant cost for that copper material.
Within two months that group could identify the problem: the spools on the winding machine where not proper straight. The coils on that machine were turning a little sideways, creating that problem.
Support of management team was key for implementing the needed changes.
Getting those tangible results increased the enthusiasm and the engagement of that team that after that success urged to be appointed and take care of further issues.
At the end of the development program, at the final meeting, all of project works results were presented by each team.
All of those twenty people sense of accomplishment was high and exactly that guy who had expressed difficulties in participating, was the one who had contributed more to the results in his project work. On that day he knocked the door of  his manager,  thanking for the extraordinary, unique  experience he could make.
In the meantime experienced and further younger colleagues from other areas where noticing all of that increasing enthusiasm during all of those months.
After the first two months, after the first group had started, a second group entered a similar program. That’s how that “new innovation culture”  became there viral by changing the way how doing things.