Note: This is the first in a series on managing change.

Each day, you have the opportunity to succeed or fail based on how you manage change. It’s not change, per se, that limits your future success. Rather, it's the inability to manage change. That’s why you must have a solid transition plan in place. 

Get buy-in
Transition is the process by which we modify behaviors and actions to achieve the desired outcome. In order to do that, you must first identify the change you want to take place, the people impacted by it, and then build a transition plan.

For example, let’s say we need to change milking procedures in the parlor to improve cow throughput. While this may seem like a simple task, it can be a major management problem. For the parlor employees, changes in routine practices can undermine their ability to perform with confidence. When employees don’t understand why a change is made, or they don’t believe in it, they become puzzled, anxious and insecure. Lacking understanding, skills and confidence to implement the new milking procedures, employees often resist or even derail the process so that the old process will be reinstated. Or, they may comply in your presence while covertly dragging their feet. Even if they try to do what they are TOLD to do, the results are usually dismal without a transition plan.

Three key steps
Here are the three key steps needed to implement a change in milking procedures:

  • End those milking procedures that will not be continued after the transition.
  • Enter the “neutral zone” where old procedures have been removed and new procedures can be developed. 
  • Implement the new milking protocols.

  Of the three steps, the most challenging — and most important — is the neutral zone. It is the core of the transition process. In the neutral zone, old procedures get tossed aside in order to build new procedures that can deliver the desired outcome. The gap between old and new provides you and the parlor employees with the greatest opportunity for creativity, innovation and revitalization. When working in the neutral zone, concentrate on new procedures and getting everyone to pull together in a new direction.

Consider appointing someone "devil’s advocate" to make sure that you and the employees don’t dismiss new ideas in your desire to find a quick solution. Finally, encourage experimentation, and don’t push for closure prematurely. By keeping these things in mind, you will be able to enter a new beginning, with new procedures for improving cow throughput.

Training, psychological support and participation will increase the likelihood of employees accepting the new written procedures. But a change in protocols, by itself, does not guarantee success. Keep the lines of communication open and be sure to listen to what your employees have to say — both positive and negative.You also need to ensure that job responsibilities are well defined and you have the right people in the right jobs.

Attitude is everything
Throughout this entire process, a positive attitude must be maintained. You must believe that you can navigate the changes successfully. Otherwise, your employees, your management team members, and anyone else included in the process will sense your lack of commitment and lack of desire for a positive outcome. To get the results you want, have a transition plan and execute it with confidence and enthusiasm.

Monte Hemenover is a dairy industry consultant and president of Avenues For Change, St. Louis, Mo.