Recently, I spoke with a mechanical engineer about how his company manages globalization. As a product line manager with a global manufacturer, he has traveled the world to learn how to better integrate their global manufacturing system.
He told me the company began to localize its manufacturing twenty years ago. Each factory now serves a customer area close to where their products are sold. For example, they have a couple of plants in the U.S., one in Western Europe, one in Eastern Europe and a couple in different Asian countries.
It is a localized global footprint.
One of the discoveries that the company has made is that their engineers need to talk to each other. The manufacturing processes are the same. The engineers do not all have the same knowledge and experience. They encounter situations which are similar yet are new to one or more of them.
As a result, they have developed an online network of relationships model to integrate their individual learning. This is a change in mindset and behavior that integrates a global communication structure for addressing local problem areas.
Viewing change as a disruptive, distracting nuisance was once the standard mindset. The aim of this approach is to minimize variation, creating an equilibrium that is predictable. The result is that we minimize the need for change.
I don’t believe this way is possible any longer. Yet, people do settle into a rhythm of work that is comfortable for them. Being comfortable is the opposite of the chaos of change. This means that change remains an outside force that comes to us uninvited.
I’m convinced that this is not a sustainable approach.
Instead, we need to develop two skills for integrating change. One is the skill of seeing change in a larger context.
The second is the skill of integrating change as a discipline that makes sense and actually helps us function better.
The Big Picture Shift You Should Be Making
The first skill is that of situational awareness. The challenge here is that for many of us we get so lost in our own reactions to change that we cannot see what is taking place beyond our own perception of it. Situational awareness is the skill of being able to step out of your own preferential perception to see what is taking place.
The social value of this skill is two-fold. One is that each person within an organization or on a team develops the capacity to see the larger picture of what is going on. The result is seeing change not as just something happening to us right now. If we can anticipate change, then we are in a better position to respond to it.
For example, in the story described above, the global manufacturing company saw something long before many companies that led them to localize their manufacturing processes. They choose not to manufacture and transport around the world. Instead, they chose to manufacture close to where the customer is.
They learned distance matters; not just in relation to the customer but throughout the whole supply chain.
This is a shift from a more centralized mindset to a decentralized one. Integrating this kind of change required a greater sensitivity to what is happening at the local level long before it became an accepted industry practice. This kind of situational awareness is a competitive advantage at every level.
Questions You Should Be Asking
Finbarr Livesey in his book From Global to Local: The Making of Things and The End of Globalization writes about changes that are being thrust upon companies.
“In the future, the needs for centralization in order to maintain control and fragmentation in order to obtain market access will increasingly find themselves fighting against one another. The trends … imply shorter expected time between customer ordering a product and receiving it, with that product likely to have some element of customization such as a changed color or image. However, companies will still need to have some scale of production to make a factory economically viable. This fine balance is what companies will struggle with as these changes occur and not every company will be able to manage this transition well.”
This scenario requires a high level of situational awareness because of the fluidity of change; and ideal for applying the other skill: the discipline of asking questions that lead to insight.
One of the tools that I’ve developed to foster the Circle of Impact’s application is the set of questions called Five Questions That Everyone Must Answer. I’ve created a free guide that goes into depth about its use. It’s available when you sign-up below for my monthly newsletter, Leading for Impact.
The first of the five questions is “What has changed? How are we in transition?”
This is a question that we should be asking regularly. It provides us with a simple way to track change as a transition over time.
However, the questions we ask only serve us when we ask them within a context that reveals situational awareness.
If you ask the question, “What has changed? How are we in transition?”, and your answer seems vague or unclear, then take the following step:
Ask this question as it relates to the Circle of Impact’s three dimensions of ideas, relationships, and organizational structure.
Has your perception changed? If so, when did it change, and why? Was it a person’s comment, something that you have read or watched online or some statistical change that was unexpected? What is the change in mindset that is now causing you to see things differently?
Is there a change in a relationship which has impacted how the company is functioning? Is this change positive or negative? Has there been some interaction or situation that has caused the relationship of trust to be altered? If so, when did this change take place, and why?
Has there been a change in how the structure of the business is functioning? Is it a change that has been forced from the outside or from within the organization? When did this change begin? What has been the response? Has the response been effective in improving how the structure operates?
These inquiries are not casual questions. They are integrating questions that require thought. If they are asked only occasionally – meaning, only when there feels like a need – the questions will remain challenging to answer.
The questions can help us see the dynamics of change that are not being integrated well into the organization’s operation.
The Five Questions That Everyone Must Answer are designed to be asked on a regular basis. They can be asked of any situation. I’ve known people who have asked them prior to each work week. I have used them to focus my intention for meetings or workshops that I’ve conducted.
Asked regularly over time, with a record of the answer to each, an awareness of how change is being integrated into an organization grows. Asked effectively over time and the questions become present in mind all the time. This is what I recommend.
You can certainly fight change. But you won’t win. The complexity that comes with change makes it difficult to control all aspects of it. This is particularly true when your strategy is to resist change. It is better to learn how to absorb and integrate change as an agile, adaptive strategy for growth. Utilizing the two skills of situational awareness and asking questions will pay benefits in the long run.