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Change is Unavoidable

By: Dave Boseman, AFSOC Program Manager

“But that’s the way we’ve always done it.” This is a phrase I heard often from a former employee. This employee had been doing the same job for over 15 years and was comfortable with the status quo and refused to change, even after being provided explanation of the pros (i.e., the change would provide a better product to the customer or make the job easier). While tasks were completed on time and to the customer’s satisfaction, for VectorCSP, “good enough” just wasn’t good enough.

I believe the former employee eventually got the message. Unfortunately, it came too late.

Change is (or should be) ongoing. This can be change in processes, personnel, management style, goals, et cetera. It shouldn’t be reactionary. If an organization only implements change in response to an outside force, it is guaranteed that it will not be a leader in its sector, but a follower. In government contracting, as well as most other businesses, if you’re not the lead dog, the view is always the same. In the words of Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, “Change before you have to.”

Change in an organization or an individual can manifest itself as good or bad, or not happen at all.

Should it not happen, stagnation will occur and, regardless of whether the same processes that worked in the past continue to be used (and remain somewhat effective), without change, sub-optimization is bound to exist. This is due to the fact that no entity operates in a vacuum. The competition will continue to implement changes and innovate. This will leave those who just toe the line instead of stepping across it at a distinct disadvantage.

Bad change would seem to be a negative, and it usually is; think of “New Coke” or Kodak refusing to accept and develop digital photography in a timely manner even though one of their engineers developed it. Coke recovered, but Kodak filed for bankruptcy.

That being said, bad change could actually indicate a healthy management environment in an organization, depending on the severity of the “badness.” Obviously, not all change is good, nor does it always produce expected results (although using Lean/Six Sigma principles can help mitigate this). Management must realize this and not have the expectation that allchange will result in a boost of the bottom line or please the client. However, if management does not allow employees to take chances and occasionally fail, the organization will continue to do things the same way they’ve always done them.

Along those lines, it is my belief that most positive (good) change comes from the bottom up as opposed to the top down. The employees performing the task are best able to identify shortfalls in processes and identify better ways to do things. These employees should be encouraged to seek better/more effective ways to fulfill assigned tasks and potentially exceed expectations.

When management makes site visits, they will sometimes hear comments such as, “This is not working” or, “Why do we have to do it this way?” At Vector, it is our goal to empower our personnel to approach management with suggestions for change or even recommendations about processes. Their input is valuable to us and we make sure they know it.

When an employee comes to me with a complaint about a process, I always try to first ask what their solution is instead of immediately supplying one myself. This encourages a platform to share ideas from the person best able to supply them and can ultimately achieve buy-in, ownership, and pride because it is their idea. Thus, the good change happens and reinforces the innovation and collaborative mindset that produces value for the client and VectorCSP.

Finally, it is good to remember that we can fairly easily change organizational structure, processes, work instructions, et cetera, but it is very difficult to change people. But, it is our job as good managers to work with everyone on our team to seek out and promote innovation and change.

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