Once again, the buzzword of Industry 4.0 made the rounds at this year’s Hannover Fair. This means that in the age of digitization, it is unlikely that companies in the future will be left on one another. In the foreseeable future, machines rather than people will be making decisions in the production halls about whether, for example, materials have to be reordered or defects in the production process have to be rectified. The machines are not necessarily monitored by the workers on the job, but by engineers and IT specialists who work in a completely different location and control processes.
In order to remain competitive, companies must also offer more individualized products than before. The result: Customers and business partners are also more involved in the production processes. However, to date only very few companies in Germany have been prepared for these challenges.
Skepticism about change
This is no wonder, because digitization is proceeding at a rapid pace and the associated radical changes require numerous restructurings. However, in many companies, neither management nor the workforce is prepared for such changes.
In addition: Change processes are difficult. People like to cling to the tried and tested and are often skeptical of innovations – at least when only the closest management circle discusses the necessary changes, decides what should be done, and ultimately presents the results to the often surprised employees in the company.
Mutaree, the management consultancy specializing in change processes, describes in its change fitness study 2018/2019 that around three quarters of all change projects in the past two years have either been lost or failed. One of the main reasons: The needs of the workforce in the change process are paid too little attention. It is the people in the company who have to shape the changes and above all, have to support them.
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Change from above overwhelms the employees
In many companies, however, it is still the case that workers are being forced to make changes from “above”. This unsettles the employees. Some are afraid of failing to meet the new requirements, many are struggling to find their way around other than familiar structures, and some even fear losing their jobs, at least in the long term, as a result of restructuring.
In addition: Change projects demand a lot from the employees. You must – in addition to daily business – do other activities. This is at the expense of health: The workload is increasing, overtime is inevitable. It is only too understandable that many workers reject change processes and that numerous change projects are ultimately not implemented.
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Shaping the change process together with the employees
Companies that want to change something should therefore involve the workforce in the change process – ideally in advance. They should inquire about the needs of their employees and be open to suggestions on how to make change more humane.
If a change project is to succeed, the employees must also be able to benefit from the changes, such as easier work after completing the restructuring, more responsibility and freedom of decision. During the change process, too, it is important to take the workforce with you and always have an open ear for both criticism and suggestions for improvement.
One thing is clear: employees are not exclusively negative about change processes. This is shown by another Mutaree survey: 99 percent of respondents said that change can be fun. That’s a word!
Nora Heer is the founder and CEO of Loopline Systems, a spin-off of the Human Resources division of Project A Ventures. She is a certified media economist and trained in systemic coaching, leadership development and human resources management. In the podcast at LEAD she talks about how she works for fairness, empowerment and lifelong learning.