Becoming A Change Agent At Work – Key Actions You Can Take
1. Make sure you have at least as many “years of experience”, as the “number of years you have been with your company, or on your job”. Remember that your having spent 20 years in a place will not really mean you have acquired 20 years experience – unless you choose to actively seek out, analyse and ultimately learn from your experiences all through that period of time. In items a. and b. below, I elaborate.
a. Constantly strive to discover better ways to do what you do. Never get passive -or think you’ve done all there is to be done!
b. Oh, and by the way, don’t wait for “others” to initiate the changes either. Sometimes those “up there”(or “others”) may not have the kind of insight you do into a particular issue. If you don’t assert yourself and “show them” what YOU believe needs to be done, you will be denying both them and yourself the opportunity for significant progress or improvement.
2. Develop and diligently implement SPECIFIC PLANS to make your performance and learning each year different from – and an improvement on – last year. NEVER allow yourself to have a REPEAT performance of the last year.
In other words, make sure you are continuously improving in your knowledge, skills and general abilities as it relates to doing your job. Then use your improved competencies to develop new and/or better ways of doing what you do. Do this diligently, and you will ultimately begin to achieve recognition and career progress on a consistent basis(that is of course assuming your employer thinks like the ones described in the quote below!).
“All successful employers are stalking people who will do the unusual, people who think, people who attract attention by performing more than is expected of them.” — Charles M. Schwab
3. Rock the boat – IF you have to! Sometimes you may (have to) upset some people, bruise a few egos, or even step on some toes to successfully influence positive change.
If you learn to introduce your changes with tact, the damage done should not be irreparable. Dale Carnegie’s inexpensive book “How to win friends and influence people” offers timeless wisdom(you may NOT get in an expensive Interpersonal Effectiveness management course) on how to do this.
I was listening to Sports Radio 88.9 Brila FM sometime ago, and a lady presenter credited the following quote to Bill Gates:
“I don’t know the keys to success. But I know that the key to failure is to try and please everybody” – Bill Gates
Then there is Robert Schuller’s assertion that:
“If you want to be a pacesetting thinker, you can expect problems with those who are trapped by tradition”– Robert Schuller
As a green-horned brewer in Guinness between 1996/97, my keen interest in computers initially attracted plenty of criticism from some of my peers and senior colleagues. Some pointedly told me my efforts to use automated spreadsheet applications to replace manual reporting systems being used could not work.
They also readily attributed any mistakes I made on the job to the time I spent working on the computer (something not at that time in widespread use) which in their opinion prevented me from mastering the essential practical requirements to successfully function as a brewer.
In time, I was of course able to demonstrate beyond any shred of doubt that their assumptions were wrong. Not only did I mature into a competent brewer/shift manager (one who got repeated secondments to other departments to fill sudden vacancies while replacements were sought), but I also went on to use my computer skills to develop over five customised spreadsheet applications.
These applications were formally adopted in place of the manual reporting systems being used at that time in the various departments I worked. In the rest of this article, I narrate some of my experiences a Change Agent in Guinness Nigeria Plc – in the hope that you will pick up some useful learning towards achieving achieving similar – if not better – successes in your workplace.
“Some people join the crowd in order to become “hidden” or “protected” from criticism or scrutiny. Since they also take care never to voice contrary (and at times ANY) opinion, they are rewarded with the anonymity they seek – and the insignificance that results from it.” – Tayo Solagbade
Initiating Change As A Shift Brewer/Manager(My Story)
I joined Guinness Nigeria as a Graduate Trainee in October 1994, and voluntarily resigned my appointment as Technical Training and Development Manager in December 2001 – having given 2 months mandatory notice. I actually read a Yahoo! Newsgroup announcement of some management changes in Guinness in 2000, including mine at groups.yahoo.com/group/Naija-news/message/1290.(See entries under the heading titled “Restructuring, appointments, promotions at Guinness” towards the bottom of the page)
On numerous occasions while I worked in that company, I chose to assert myself and dare to be different by expressing my ideas, and challenging existing ways of doing things. (Since becoming an entrepreneur, I have been “guilty” of acting the same way. Read my article titled How To Be A Jack Of Many Trades – And Why It Can Make You Succeed More Often? to learn about how I am playing the change agent role outside paid employment).
Between 1997 and 2000 I automated – in my spare time – the entire process of brewing data recording, analysis and report generation by developing custom automated spreadsheet applications using my self-taught skills in Lotus macros spreadsheet programming.
Incidentally, I had learnt about Lotus macros programming by working closely with a young expatriate Training Coordinator – Richard Chambers – (who was extremely good at it) in my days as a Management Trainee in 1994/95. So you see, it had cost me NO money and just some time/effort to acquire a skill, which was to later open numerous doors of opportunities for me!
I also had some ideas about how to improve the tools being used to measure the performance of the brewing process. And I felt so convinced about them that I just could not stop calling the attention of my superiors. Some examples follow.
A Barrage Of Proposals
In January 1998, I wrote the first of a series of three papers that would generate considerable debate in my department, to my boss. In it I faulted what was then our current method of calculating the Brewhouse Turn Round Time (BHTRT) parameter being used to asses our brewhouse performance, and proposed a modification to the formula.
My colleagues- some of whom had been brewers many years before I joined the company – tested the modified formula and ultimately recommended its adoption.
Two months later, the second paper questioned the reliability of the BHTRT parameter itself as a measure of performance. My argument was that BHTRT by its computation failed to capture other essential aspects of our brewing performance thereby sometimes understating out performance even when we had done well. As could be expected, not everyone readily accepted this line of reasoning. However, it did stimulate lively discussions and plenty of re-thinking.
In June 1998, the third paper proposed (to senior management) for adoption, a formula for computing a new brewery performance measure which I called “Brewhouse % Efficiency” to complement existing performance measures like the BHTRT. This formula had components which took account of all key variables in the brewing process thereby giving – what I considered – a more reliable representation of the overall performance of the brewhouse.
Not only did my boss – Greg Udeh – buy into the idea, he engaged me in extensive discussions about how I derived it, and then sent it to the brewery’s Operations Manager(OM) – Alistair Reid. Few weeks later, following the approval from the OM, I made abridged copies of the original proposal, which my boss then circulated to senior managers in the technical function across the company.
The response was instantaneous. For 6 consecutive months subsequently, the formula was discussed at the monthly Technical Review Meetings by senior managers in the Technical function. In addition, the Production department in Lagos brewery also “tested” the formula for use. I still recall vividly the many phone calls and emails(hard copies of which are in my files even now) that I exchanged with Chizzy Uduanochie who was then based in Lagos brewery, trying to explain how he could adapt the formula for use in their Lager brewing process.
Best of all, I got a formal acknowledgment for my efforts when Brian Carson(who was then) – head of the Technical Function – commended me during one of the brewery management meetings I attended. Another Senior Manager – Raymond Ugboh – commented not long after, that the work I had done in developing that formula was like something for a PhD thesis! (What better way to discover how much of a positive impression you’ve made in people’s minds!)
Little wonder then that I subsequently got repeated exposure to significant career advancement opportunities (especially as I never stopped doing those things for which I had been acknowledged – being innovative, creative, dedicated, dependable, a team worker etc).
Career Opportunities: Acting As Training Manager Twice In The Same Year
At different times in 1998 (when I made my many proposals), various opportunities would come my way.
First Secondment: In March 1998, I was nominated to relieve the substantive Technical Training and Development Manger(TTDM) – Austin Isikhuemen – while he observed his annual leave(The TTDM’s position was on a management grade one step above middle level management which I belonged to as a brewer).
The job involved supervising a team of 3 managers(Training Instructors), 5 Engineering Trainees and a Secretary, while reporting to the Brewery Technical Manager. Only 3 years earlier, the instructors had put me through as a 24 year old trainee. I realised this and made sure to let them see that I still valued and respected their experience. However, when necessary, I did not hesitate to assert myself especially when a possibility of set targets or deadlines not being met became apparent.
I also had to ensure planned training courses were run on schedule for all employees. In certain cases this required liasing with external training consultants. Effective interfacing with sectional and departmental heads within the brewery or from other breweries, as well as periodic evaluation of training courses – especially those run by external facilitators were crucial roles I had to play.
As usual, I looked for ways to make my job easier. For example, I introduced a spreadsheet macro program on the brewery’s intranet which enabled printing of blank Internal Technical Audit record forms. This reduced delays previously encountered by intending auditors whenever provided blank copies ran out.
Repeat Secondment: Mid-August 1998, I received official notification of my nomination by the brewery’s Technical Manager, Chris Biss, to act, again, as TTDM.
This time, it was for an even longer period of over 3 months!
The incumbent TTDM – Austin – had commenced a 3 month overseas training tour before this time, and the Technical Manager himself was scheduled to go away for over one month on his annual leave during the period I was to act!
I must add here that before then, one question that had tugged at my mind since completing my first secondment/acting assignment had been whether or not my performance had been to the satisfaction of the Technical Manager, and the brewery management in general. This subsequent recall to the position, and the circumstances under which I was asked to assume duties – where by no “hand-holding” was employed to “ease me in” (suggestive of the “Trial By Fire” method sometimes deliberately used by management to “test” the mettle of individual employees) – gave me the answer I needed.
On this second run, I went on to formally propose data entry of training records for individual employees into the existing human resources database package(PS 2000) then being exclusively used by the HR department. Following discussions with the brewery IT department and the HR manager, the proposal was accepted and implemented.
The Lagos brewery would later be advised to adopt the same solution following a Technical Review Meeting(TRM – brewery level meeting attended by senior mangers from the company’s Lagos Headquarters) at which I announced that records of over 350 (out of 430) staff in Benin Brewery had already been entered into the database. This made it possible to generate reports about individual staff containing details of employment history, courses attended, performance etc for use in decision making by departmental heads.
Important Note: You might want to take note of the point made here. I got nominated – TWICE in the same year – to hold a high-profile position while less than 4 years old in the company. This trend actually continued right into the last years I spent in the company as I continued to use my self-taught skills to deliver EXTRA value every time I was at work.
Other Examples From The Time I Spent In Guinness
I make these additions NOT to blow my horn or make myself look good, but to provide the reader a variety of scenarios in which opportunities for influencing positive changes in the work place can be found and utilised. Incidentally, most times, if you are alert, they simply become obvious to you. The only thing left would then be to take action.
The examples described here provide further evidence that I actively challenged existing ways of thinking and doing things with a view to discovering easier and better methods. They also show a trend that suggested I had an uncanny instinct that guided me to think along the lines that my superiors were likely to develop interest in later on. I strongly believe anyone can develop this instinct by adopting a similar mental attitude to the one described towards the end of this article.
1. Introducing A Process Control Tool: In June 1997, about four(4) months after returning from temporary redeployment to the Packaging department*, I proposed and implemented the use of CUSUM(Cumulative Sum Deviation) charts to monitor trends of some key brewing parameters to complement conventional Schewart charts then being used in the brewing department. *(I was officially a brewer, but had received training to work in the Packaging department, resulting in my periodic secondments to that department).
I had come across the CUSUM concept while studying a paper on energy usage and monitoring. It offers among others, the benefit of indicating points at which changes occur in a process due to non-accidental causes thereby making it easy to evaluate the effect of modifications deliberately or inadvertently effected in the brewing process.
To make it easy for the charts to be updated, I designed a spreadsheet for the purpose and championed its use. CUSUM charts were subsequently used to monitor and depict sustained progress in controlling beer foam retention and percentage brewing wort boil off rates. Read my article titled Simple Performance Measurement/Control Techniques to learn more about the CUSUM concept.
In November 1997, I wrote and presented a paper titled “Statistical Process Control(SPC) And Target Setting” based on the work I had done in Guinness, at the 1997 edition of the Nigerian Institute of Management(NIM) Young Manager’s Competition.
I was runner up in the zonal finals of the competition held at Ibadan, and placed 5th overall(out of 8 finalists) at the subsequent National Finals held in Lagos – in December 1997 – mainly due to a botched presentation caused by my inexperience. You can read the very useful learning I gained from that experience in my article titled I Flopped Badly At The National Finals!(A True Story About How NOT To Prepare For/Deliver An Important Presentation).
Coincidence? In July 1998(about 6 months after I delivered my paper on Statistical Process Control at the NIM competition), Guinness Nigeria sent brewers and bottling line managers – myself included – to attend a Continuous Process Improvement course at the Lagos Business School. The potential applications of SPC to achieve process consistency featured prominently in the course.
2. Proposing A New Process Performance Measure: Earlier on in this article, I described the events leading up to my proposal in July 1998, of a new measure called Percentage Brewhouse Efficiency. I had derived the formula for computing this parameter by conducting elaborate spreadsheet based data analysis(based on an adaptation of the Packaging Line Efficiency formula) over a 2 month period – in my spare time – using more than 2 years worth of brewing data. The proposal was given consideration at the highest levels in the company’s technical function.
Coincidence? In March 1999, a comprehensive list of performance measures (some new) to be used for comparative assessments of brewing sites across the Guinness Africa group were circulated from the London office. One of them – though not based on my formula – was a new parameter called Brewhouse Factory Efficiency.
3. Developing Best Operating Practice(BOP) Assessment Formats: Between February and March 1999, I lead-facilitated the implementation of the BOP assessment exercise for Velo filter operations in the brewing department. The assessment format I designed specifically for this exercise( based on the competencies indicated as requisite in the Operator Works Instructions) would later be requested from me by the Training Instructor responsible for BOP Operations – Ben Ogansuyi – and formally adopted for use.
The Mental Attitude That Helped Me Succeed As A Change Agent
In order to help you identify other factors that enabled me achieve recognition and career progress, I offer details about the kind of thinking I employed in doing my work.
I had an unwavering interest in continually acquiring new knowledge, skills and experiences even if considerable personal expenses would be incurred. For instance, I recall having to spend almost my entire leave allowance on materials, and in preparation for the Nigerian Institute of Management’s(NIM) Young Manager’s Competition I entered for in 1997. The same thing happened when I chose to learn how to speak, read and write the French language two years later.
Adopting a similar mental attitude is likely to boost your chances of work place success significantly.
This positive attitude and work ethic made me get noticed easily, as I was often thrust into the spotlight for having introduced new ideas/ways of doing things – often times using my ability to influence people’s ways of thinking and doing things to get the buy-in of others.The many instances during which I was able to identify defects in existing settings and successfully propose acceptable modifications to them within a short period of joining a new or different work area are cases in point.
The following narrative describes one of such cases.
Staying Relevant To The Company’s Needs As A Change Agent
After the company’s switch from Lotus Smart Suite to MS office platform during the roll over to year 2000, I made out time to develop self-taught proficiency in the use of Microsoft’s equivalent to Lotus 1-2-3’s macros i.e. MS Excel Visual Basic. I did this out of a well formed habit of doing whatever was necessary to keep myself relevant to the needs of the company.
This pro-active step paid off in late 2001, few months before I left the company, when I successfully developed a Visual Basic for Excel Custom Automated Training Records database application for Benin brewery(which would later be sent to Lagos brewery at the request of the latter’s TTDM) – in order to meet requirements of the then impending ISO 9002 certification audits, pending delivery of the application to be sourced by the IT department.
It might interest you to know that today, I deliver Custom Spreadsheet Automation Services to clients for a fee – so my efforts at developing spreadsheet solutions in my workplace were not wasted. You can work towards having the same experience too – since you will one day have to retire.
You must be constantly critical of yourself, and the environment in which you find yourself at any point in time. Always ask yourself questions when things happen differently or you notice something unusual. Many times, it is by keeping yourself in such a state of mental alertness that you are able to pick up valuable learnings from your experiences – and sometimes come up with innovative solutions to problems faced by you and others you work with!
Also, while learning from experiences, you need to be patient since sometimes the experiences can be slow and even painful. You must fix your mind on the ultimate purpose of your having the experience(s), and draw strength from the knowledge that you will come away much better off than if you never had the experience(s).
Finally, I ask you: What are the conditions or circumstances you accept to live and work with daily? Are there some that you dislike but feel you cannot do anything about? If yes, you must change your attitude and begin to think of HOW to turn those circumstances around to your advantage. If you give enough thought to it, you will find a way. So, don’t rationalise your circumstances away – analyse them!