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Hit and Run Change Management Efforts in Manufacturing Rarely Deliver Sustainable Results

“I’m from corporate and I’m here to help.”

It is my experience that many of the changes introduced in manufacturing facilities by corporate or enterprise teams often fail, or at best, deliver lackluster results. It isn’t that the change is a bad idea or not necessary.  In fact, many times the changes driven by “corporate” are critical to the long term viability of the company. The core issues tend to be a failure on the part of the change agent and sponsors to truly understand the impact the change will have on the manufacturing facilities and the fact that a one-size fits all approach will not be successful.

I have been on both sides of these changes. I understand the issues first hand and I still cringe at the thought of being a member of the change team descending on the plant to “roll out the change.” Leading and sustaining change in a manufacturing environment is complex, complicated and tough.  All too often what I have seen and experienced is ‘Hit and Run’ as the preferred change strategy:

‘Hit & Run’ Approach to change management in manufacturing

The Change Agent…

In the manufacturing facility…
Announces the change… Rumors of change are discussed
Designs the Change Plan… Neither plant leadership nor targets are invited to collaborate
Drops in… Plant leadership reluctantly welcomes their visit and prioritizes the change
Does their thing… Plant leadership does what they ask at risk of being called out by their VP…
Gives lots of orders… Targets of the change listen and wait…
Sets corporate expectations… Target Resistance mounts and becomes obvious
Goes back to corporate… Plant leadership defuses the resistance and reprioritizes the change
Checks in on progress… Targets revert back to business as usual
Expects sustainability…. Desired state is never achieved
Blames the plant for failure… No one takes accountability for failure


It isn’t fair to paint all change agents and all manufacturing change management experiences with my brush of cynicism. Corporate change teams are often smart and experienced change management thought leaders and practitioners. They understand how to deliver effective change management.  They spend considerable amounts of time designing and planning changes that are deemed necessary to cascade corporate policy, improve manufacturing processes, increase efficiencies or improve quality. As skilled change agents, change teams intellectually appreciate that each plant will be unique, yet they often approach the change and the change management requirements generically.

Avoid the pitfalls of Hit & Run Change Management in Manufacturing

What’s often missed is understanding that the resistance that exists within each manufacturing facility will be both similar and unique. As implementation of the change continues at each facility, the impact on the facility’s performance and overall corporate performance will likely be unique. And when the desired state is achieved, a clear hand off and exit strategy to sustain the changes will largely be unique to each facility. The corporate change management team will keep moving from one facility to the next expecting the change will sustain.

Consider the following strategies specific to managing change in a manufacturing environment to avoid the Hit and Run pitfalls and ensure a greater probability of success:

  1. Understand the manufacturing environment – Structure, Process, People and Culture.
  2. Ensure the communication of the business case for change is uniquely tailored to each facility.
  3. Clarify the Desired State at the corporate and EACH manufacturing facility.
  4. Engage representatives from each facility in design of the Desired State and implementation strategy.
  5. Establish a change team at each facility and train them as partners in the change process.
  6.  Build strong authorizing sponsorship for the change at the corporate level and reinforcing sponsorship in EACH plant.
  7. Understand generic resistance across all plants and the unique resistance in EACH facility.
  8. Build a communication system, learning system and rewards system for each facility to address facility-specific target resistance.  When possible, leverage common solutions across facilities.
  9. Manage the implementation of the change plan at both the corporate and plant level.
  10. Build a comprehensive hand off approach and exit strategy that will enable change success and long term sustainment.

You may feel these considerations are in fact generic. I disagree. I believe most of the time the oversights are not because the practitioner doesn’t understand effective change management, but because they are inexperienced working their craft in a manufacturing environment. A degree in manufacturing engineering, supply chain management or design for assembly isn’t necessary but an appreciation for this unique environment can make all the difference in managing manufacturing changes successfully.

Deborah Morrison has worked in multiple manufacturing environments and industries. She has been on both the initiating and receiving ends of corporate led initiatives ranging from diversity to quality to predictive maintenance programs that require significant changes within manufacturing facilities. She has a wide range of experiences including change management, process improvement, organization alignment, training and development, and strategy execution to help initiate, drive and sustain successful change. In future blogs, she will share her experiences as a change management thought leader to address how you can avoid the Hit and Run pitfalls presented here. 

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