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Digital champions must address cultural upheaval

Conrad Leiva
By Conrad Leiva VP of Ecosystem and Workforce Development, CESMII

Smart Processes, Solutions & Strategies

There is very good technology available today that helps manufacturers solve real problems, but that is not what digital manufacturing is about. Digital manufacturing is a transformational opportunity that requires comprehensive cultural change to truly leverage technology in a future state where teams are working together to achieve an optimized value creation process for internal stakeholders, through to customers and shareholders.

New technologies should be explored with a clear understanding of how they support the desired future mix of products, services and business models for the enterprise.

A transformed digital manufacturing enterprise is enabled by technology and, more importantly, a shared mindset of enterprise-level transparency, optimization and enhanced decision-making.

There are several natural forces challenging transformation in mature organizations.

The first challenge is the existing ingrained organizational culture—the legacy patterns and shared assumptions that have worked for years and are passed down to new team members as best practices.

Legacy thinking can make it difficult to institutionalize new processes encouraging transparency, collaboration and viewing external resources as partners instead of suppliers.

The second challenge might be counterintuitive, but many successful organizations are moved by the relentless pursuit of incremental improvements. They have ingrained a culture of cost reduction over the last two decades. Organizations will need to focus on rewarding progress toward the future vision versus rewarding solely based on performance improvement.

A third challenge is the emotional side of business transformation—emotions fueled by a lack of understanding of differing perspectives, motivations and concerns among subcultures within the organization—is often underestimated.

The transformation champion acts as group therapist at times, facilitating convergence and recognizing that each subculture sees the initiative through different lenses.

Some managers might be wary of the initiative if they have had a bad prior experience with automation or IT projects. Other managers might try to push for results too quickly, underestimating the effort in scaling solutions to the entire enterprise. It is important to pace the transformation and make time to evaluate the needs for different types of products and production processes along the way.

The engineering and IT team can help with that evaluation. Engineers consider themselves craftsmen and experts in building elegant solutions. They want an efficient overall system and will resist initiatives that feel half-baked in a rush to rewire everything. The initiative will be better accepted by this subculture if they feel recognition and ownership in new processes.

Production technicians might be wary for different reasons, such as a lack of new skills or a reduction of the workforce. It is not enough for the initiative champion or coach to spend all of his or her time on training technical skills; it is just as important to facilitate open forums to allow employees to express their concerns.

The digital manufacturing transformation is as much of a cultural and emotional upheaval as it is a reengineering of processes and systems. Concerns about organizational changes and upskilling must be managed throughout. The new organizational culture must embrace continuous change of the business and ecosystem considering the new reality of a continuously changing marketplace.

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