This is really not an article about Change Management although it touches on change management themes. It is an exploration of Continuous Improvement and what is required for leadership in industry to come to terms with the need to do things differently, to step out of the box and set out in a different direction.
As an example the Oil and Gas industry currently find themselves in the midst of yet another boom-bust cycle (bust being the operative word here) and one after another industry leaders throw up their hands and cry that there is nothing that can be done! Jobs are cut budgets are slashed and everyone scrambles to stay ahead of the call on their debt payment. Batten down the hatches and hang on for dear life to preserve whatever is left.
That we have seen this cycle and this response more than once quite frankly is a discredit to the industry. It speaks to the lack of vision on the part of many (not all) with regard to truly transforming the industry away from this horribly counter productive ebb and flow. The question it begs is what will it take for them to change? Oil and Gas is a good current example to explore but the lessons are valid across all industry sectors.
In an article published in the Gallup Business Journal, authors Jesus Rios and Julie Ray set a compelling argument for how Chile can weather the current economic downturn and not only weather it but thrive. I share here the last three paragraphs of the article.
As Chile grapples with external economic forces that hinder its short-term prosperity, it is fitting that the country has untapped competitive advantages that leaders can control -- in both the public and private sectors. Chile approaches this new cycle of economic downturn armed with a relatively sizable reservoir of engaged workers -- a scarce commodity in the world, but one capable of turning economies around, one workplace at a time.
For a country that needs to elevate its game through higher productivity, having a workforce that is more engaged than its competitors' means its workers are not only more willing to put in discretionary effort to get things done, but are more emotionally invested in their jobs, bringing excitement and creativity to the workplace. Not only are they more willing to adapt to change when needed, but they also have more energy to bring about change itself. But this energy needs to be unleashed through great talent management at work, and cultivated through quality education in society at large if it is to become that engine of productivity that the country so greatly needs.
Chile has long had a favorable macroeconomic environment that has brought along foreign investment, governance and prosperity. Its openness to the global economy has also allowed it to forge partnerships with other countries, with which it has thriving trade relations and bilateral cooperation in several key areas for its development. But Chile has long over-relied on natural resources whose market dynamics it doesn't control. So, it is time for the country to leverage -- and further invest in -- a natural resource that its leadership can control, that is extremely hard for others to replicate, and that no external economic force can take away: its human capital, the emotional engagement that Chileans bring to work every day. (Underline is mine) Rios & Ray - Gallup Business Journal , January 28, 2016
Several things stand out; first that much like Western Canada, Chile has a resource based economy that makes it vulnerable to external economic pressures. Second, they have a highly engaged workforce (almost 40% compared with 32% in Canada). The focus of the article is on how to use that engaged workforce to gain higher productivity to counteract those external pressures. In short how to beat the boom-bust cycle.
Employee engagement is a cornerstone of Continuous Improvement and the key that leadership in the Oil and Gas industry (again with some exceptions) have yet to leverage to their advantage. In addition, with regard to education, we have an advantage in North America in that the educational systems are still pretty robust so the focus for training really only needs to be within each company.
And still many companies have been resistant to move to a Continuous Improvement approach or they have adopted an approach that is heavily metrics based (which is okay) but with no investment in driving employee engagement at the same time (not so good). Metrics should drive engagement which should drive innovation and cost savings and once that is achieved and sustained a company has gained a significant advantage over its competition and indeed over market conditions in general. A company with a robust Continuous Improvement culture sees a market downturn as an opportunity not a problem.
So here we are in the middle of another market cycle of boom and bust. If you are a leader, I leave you with this question; what will it take for you to change?