October 2014
Volume 5, Issue 10

Dancing with the Devil You Don’t Know

To help your business thrive, it might be time to change your tune

By Bob Yenkner

Why does the idea of change strike fear in some people? It might be the fear of the unknown, which can lead to costly mistakes and even failure. Better to live with the devil you know than the one you don’t, right?

Any change takes energy, work, and getting used to the new way of doing things. People become confused and uncomfortable, and that, more often than not, leads to frustration. Simply put, many people don’t like change.

Our industry is experiencing significant changes in materials, technology, off-shore competition, dental business models, and technical skills. Ask yourself the following: As an organization, what are we risking by not embracing change? Terms such as profits, productivity, employee satisfaction, and long-term viability may come to mind.

Change begins in two ways. One method is to wait until the pain is so bad that you move away from the status quo, accept the ambiguity, and face the challenges. Watching dentists reduce the amount of work they give you, writing checks for overtime to correct an exorbitant amount of remakes, turning away business because your lead times are too long, or constantly replacing your technicians as they depart for greener pastures are but a few examples of this pain that your laboratory endures. Waiting for the situation to become intolerable is not a wise business strategy. You will require huge amounts of effort (and money) just to get back to where you were.

Another way for change to happen is to be proactive in addressing the pain before it can cripple your business. Make change part of the laboratory culture by focusing on moving information across old and obsolete boundaries. A number of things can be done to make change easier to accept and more likely to stick:

Provide guidance and establish context for the changes needed. Having a vision, whether it is as simple as a sales goal or adding another product line to boost profits, is critical to share and discuss. Early, open-ended discussions often result in the most productive outcomes, whereas the business that does not share a vision is usually unsuccessful in making change.

Supply appropriate resources (time, money, and people). All too often, businesses start to make changes and then slowly bleed off the resources necessary to successfully achieve change. Lack of resources is the single biggest source of frustration when it comes to change. Change won’t happen by itself; it needs careful management of the meager resources that many businesses use for all sorts of things, including production.

Make sure management “walks the talk.” Be on the lookout for actions or words that undermine the credibility of the change efforts. Employees will take their cues based on how management reacts to challenges, supports the new process, and drives the follow-through efforts. If employees see or sense an inconsistency between the message and the behavior, change will ultimately become a casualty.

Empower your employees. Most businesses do not understand the real concept of empowerment, and as such, successful change is lost. Empowerment means that all employees are charged with developing the information they need to make correct decisions and take appropriate actions toward the goals. Most laboratories have highly skilled employees, with years of experience, whose collective knowledge goes unutilized. By empowering these employees to become part of the change, the laboratory uses that knowledge to address the challenges induced by change and increases the employees’ ownership of those changes. Cross-functional teams for problem solving, process design, and new-product introduction represent an opportunity for gathering and distributing information throughout the organization.

Anticipate, identify, and address people problems. Change scares people. Despite our best efforts, some individuals will not want to change and can be referred to as “CAVE” people (citizens against virtually everything). They will drain the vitality from your business as they resist change, both actively and passively. So you have to ask yourself again: As an organization, what are we risking by (this individual) not embracing change? Be prepared to act accordingly.

Create some quick wins and successes. Once people see that the changes will actually work and are a step toward achieving the vision, the resistance to change will diminish. As the resistance declines, the support, involvement, and ownership of the changes will steadily increase until the old way of doing business is not an issue. Finally, positively reinforce changes by including them in reward and recognition programs.

Consider using a concept called Lean to help you affect change. If you are unwilling to lead, participate, and drive change in your business, you cannot reap the benefits that Lean provides. (Lean is a philosophical approach to developing flexible, responsive processes capable of providing your customers with what they want, in the amount they need, exactly when they want it.) Change is hard. But by reducing fear and building trust, the difficulty in making changes can be reduced.

About the Author

Bob Yenkner is the owner of Practical Process Improvement (PPI).

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