Introduction

Enterprise wide mobility solutions cover a broad footprint, with touch points right across the workforce, focused mostly on front line workers. In many areas including Workforce Management, mobility can bring significant changes to the way that people work and the way people access key support  services. The technology solution alone will not deliver the desired return on investment; unless all workers are invested in it.

Litmus has undertaken several large Technology Enabled Transformation projects involving significant implications for a Front Line workforce. For example; we have learned approaches that work in the typical workplaces of blue collar field workers, firefighters (full time and volunteer) and clinical staff.

This paper describes the key characteristics of these approaches and how it will inform the way we will deliver mobility focused transformation projects
now and into the future.

The challenge

As mobility solutions develop, improve and move further into areas such as Field Resource Management and Maintenance Management, different approaches are required to support the management of change in a workforce that is largely operating in the field and not at a desk. It is important to tailor the business transformation program to meet the challenges and opportunities presented by these different operating environments.

Effective tailoring of the change management program to meet the needs of different workforces and in particular a blue collar workforce will ensure that the change is adopted successfully within the organisation. By developing a change management program that effectively targets different workforces the organisation can:

  • accelerate adoption of the new ways of working;
  • deliver on its benefits realisation strategy;
  • reduce the risk that the project will fail to deliver its intended outcomes; and
  • minimise service disruption.

Failure to specifically target change management strategies will result in significant resistance to change, a lengthy transition and increase the likelihood of poor project outcomes.

Overview of key challenges & opportunities

Litmus is experienced in working with different workforces and in particular the blue collar workforce. There are some key characteristics of a blue collar workforce that differentiate it from a white collar workforce. These factors affect the way in which a change strategy must be developed and
implemented for the organisation to achieve their desired outcomes.

Drawing on Litmus’ experience implementing business transformation in a blue collar environment, the following are key factors to be considered in a successful change management strategy:

  • Workforce characteristics
  • Physical environment
  • Key change agents
  • Sense of custodianship

Workforce characteristics example

According to the 2010 Intergenerational Report by the Australian Government, the Australian’s population is ageing. By 2050, the number of prime-age working people is expected to increase by 44 percent. In our experience this demographic trend is mirrored in the blue collar workforce; significant numbers of employees are approaching the age of retirement.

At times, there can be entrenched work practices built up over a lifetime of service and staff may be anxious about being able to work competently in the new world. An ageing workforce needs a compelling reason for change as they may be reluctant to do so otherwise. Assisting these workers to understand the opportunities that the change will bring and outlining the support they will receive during the transition is a critical success factor. It is important to recognise that some staff will not be able to or willing to change and consideration should be given to these workers as part of any change strategy.

Blue collar workforces are often heavily unionised. Failure to engage union representation will cause a significant increase in resistance to change from the workforce. This may lead to industrial disputes and refusal to adopt the new ways of working. If engaged properly, unions are a key asset in driving change throughout a blue collar workforce, as an active and engaged union is a powerful ally in achieving lasting accepted change. Litmus has had
success by actively partnering with the appropriate union(s) by involving them in the process of change and building a relationship based on trust. Litmus has used transition councils and other advisory boards to gain union representation in an advisory capacity. This is an effective method
to keep the union up to date on the progress of work and gain their input.

In Litmus’ experience blue collar workforces tend to have a higher proportion of employees with English as a second language. Therefore the structure of the communications is important to the success of the message. Litmus has successfully utilised simple and direct communications in change activities for clients with large blue collar workforces, across a range of industries. This can be achieved through face to face communication or through the use of high impact graphics to communicate messages effectively.

Physical environment

The physical environment and working structure also impacts the way change management is undertaken. Blue collar workers often work in geographical distributed sites, away from the company’s head office and administrative support. Messages from head office need to be communicated effectively to depots, base stations and field offices. Front line and blue collar workers in particular often work in the field and have little access to computers and office notice boards, as part of their work. Reliance on electronic communications or notices on boards as mediums of communication, will therefore be ineffective; a focus on more traditional verbal communication and field communication devices will assist these workers adopt the
change. Front line service workers often also perform shift work and this creates further complexities in our ability to communicate with them.

The change strategy needs to utilise existing meeting structures or take the message to the field to succeed. Litmus has utilised the depot meetings or other work meetings as a point where supervisors or change champions can share key messages with their staff. By providing supervisors with easy to articulate messages, the key points can be shared in these regular meetings. Where it is not possible to take the message to the field, consideration
should be given to the creation of opportunities for conference room pilots or usability labs to allow workers time to build familiarity with the new ways of working as part of a broader learning and development approach.

Key change agents sense of custodianship

In Litmus’ experience, supervisors are a central contributor to positive employee attitudes to change. Successfully engaging, early and often, with the supervisors throughout the process will greatly enhance the likelihood that the change is accepted in the workplace. These supervisors will become key change champions. Providing regular updates on what’s happening, when it will occur and what the impact on operations is, helps to build a sense
of trust and purpose. Once the supervisors are aware and engaged in the change process, they can be the driving force behind implementing the change.

The administrative staff are critical, but often overlooked as agents of change. They are the experts in the administrative and HR based functions that are required by the business. Empowerment of this administrative workforce to be the agents of change assists with implementing the program of
change. This is an important role to target for “super user” training and development. Once they are skilled and knowledgeable on the change program of work, they will be a source of support for their blue collar colleagues.

The pride that a blue collar worker has for the services or products they maintain, produce, or repair is an important element in the change management approach. Each worker has a sense of responsibility and custodianship to protect the asset and service. Dedication to the job is evident through high levels of retention and low organisational churn.

They have seen programs, managers and fads come and go, but the asset remains. They are often experts in their particular area and have strong
views on what needs to be done and how it should be improved. Their lengthy careers within one company provides an excellent body of corporate knowledge. These characteristics can be used to build positive perception and get a better outcome for the business. To harness the potential of the blue collar workforce, the sense of custodianship must be leveraged. This must be done by communicating early regarding the benefits of the change and critically linking the changes to an improvement in the way they manage their assets.

Case study: Distribution management system implementation

Litmus was engaged to lead the Organisational Change Management stream of a large Distribution Management System (DMS) implementation. Litmus was tasked with equipping key roles with the knowledge and skills to successfully adopt and sustain the new system. Litmus is also supporting the organisational alignment to enable an effective new way of working to that will lead to the realisation of the benefits.

The project included over 2,000 stakeholders and over 900 of the workforce were based in the field. To reach the workforce effectively the communication strategy has on verbal and visual communications, with the successful use of face to face meetings, presentations at Workgroup Team brief meetings and information session / road shows. Litmus developed targeted communications that local management can use to communicate face to face with their functional areas, simply explaining the relevant issues and providing a conduit to gain feedback from their business areas.

As the workforce is unionised, Litmus ensured the early involvement of union representatives in change and communications activities. This  involvement was been maintained with regular and consistent two-way communication and resulted in less misinterpretation of information that often leads to industrial disputation.

Through the implementation, the Litmus team, in collaboration with the business project team members, engaged regularly with the relevant Operational Advisory Councils (OAC). Each OAC is made up of a team of functional subject experts (representatives from field based roles) that manage the continuous improvement process. Their responsibilities are to standardise work practices and equipment, provide a formal interface between operational functions and technical support groups, develop solutions to relevant operational issues and assist with the deployment of those solutions throughout the business. Litmus worked with each OAC to understand their concerns about future rollouts, and how best to deploy training and  communications to different areas of the business and in particular the blue collar field workforce.

Case Study: Utilities company

Litmus provided business transformation and change management services for a utilities company during a field resource management  implementation. The organisation had a blue collar workforce of over 800 employees working in the field. The average age of the workforce was 50 years with an average length of service of 24 years with the company. Within this workforce there was a high percentage of staff with English as a second language and low levels of computer literacy.

In this environment, electronic communications were ineffective in reaching the targeted audience and there were conflicting operating styles between management and the blue collar workers. Litmus identified that traditional change management methodologies would not work in this environment and tailored the approach to suit the workers.

The change agent network was key to ensuring a smooth transition in the business. Appropriate agents were identified within the business, based on location, position, level of influence and experience, and then up-skilled to lead the change with their peers. They were supported with information and materials that used the language of the workers so that the change agent was able to communicate effectively with their staff. Litmus also utilised conference room pilots for the change champions. Similar in nature to a usability lab, this allowed hands on interaction within a test environment of the system to reinforce learning and reduce resistance to change. This change strategy greatly increased the effectiveness of the program outcomes resulting in a positive outcome for the client with high level of user adoption.

Organisational Change Management

All people, whether in a blue or white collar environment, go through the seven stages of the change continuum. However, it is during the stages of “Awareness of the Need for Change”, “Understanding the Change” and building “Positive Perception” that different approaches must be taken to meet the particular needs of blue collar workers.

Key points of the change continuum

  • People move through seven stages during a successful change project: Contact, Awareness, Understand, Positive Perception, Implement, Adopt and Sustain
  • People move on the Change Continuum at different paces, so the change approach needs to be tailored to the specific needs of different groups
  • People cannot jump a step on the continuum
  • People can move backwards on the curve if change is not managed correctly
  • Implementation should not occur if positive perception has not been created.

The underlying principles of OCM are the same for any workforce. OCM should take a structured and pragmatic approach to support the organisation and its people through the transition from the current way of operating to the future state. It aims to shorten the time it takes for people to adopt the new system and processes and behaviours, whilst increasing overall proficiency and uptake.

In doing so, we minimise cost and disruption to ‘business as usual’ and maximise return on investment. OCM assists organisations, their staff and stakeholders to:

  • understand the need for change and its impacts;
  • build a positive environment and perception of the change;
  • adopt the new ways of working as their own.

Conclusion

When properly targeted with appropriate strategies these challenges will be overcome and successful outcomes achieved. Litmus has particular experience delivering effective change in a blue collar workforce across a range of projects and is well placed to support your organisation to achieve success. Through experience, Litmus has identified the following critical success factors for a blue collar change management program:

  • Simple, direct, honest and transparent communication;
  • Engage local management as the champions of change, and support them in this role;
  • Utilise hands on tools and activities to increase awareness of the change and its benefits;
  • Focus on face to face as the preferred method of information transfer;
  • Engage with the union as a partner in the change as appropriate;
  • Communicate the benefits that are relevant to the workforce, especially those that appeal to the sense of custodianship.

A blue collar workforce can effectively transition to new ways of working as long as the unique aspects of the workforce are taken into account and managed appropriately.