Industry 4.0: Smart Technology Needs Smart Evolution

By John Clemons

Whether it’s called Industry 4.0, digital transformation or smart manufacturing, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is making an impact on manufacturing. Smart technology is driving the revolution and transforming manufacturing back into an economic powerhouse, and perhaps for the first time ever, executives are starting to understand the importance of the actual manufacturing piece of their businesses.

However, it takes more than technology to bring about change and transform manufacturing. By itself, technology is just a tool, and just like a hammer, technology — no matter how smart — really isn’t going to do much without people in the mix somewhere. That’s where issues arise.

While technology, in general, comes with its own set of glitches and challenges, smart technology really does work and do its job. Most often, any bumps in the road come from people. In fact, for just about any Industry 4.0 endeavour, people determine its ultimate success or failure, not the technology.

The Evolving Workforce
Everyone knows the workforce is changing, especially the manufacturing workforce. An entire generation of highly skilled workers, the baby boomers, is retiring with immeasurable amounts of tribal knowledge going with them. Even though many boomers aren’t leaving just yet, Millennials are quickly headed toward being three-quarters of the overall workforce.

Not only that, product complexity and manufacturing complexity are increasing, not decreasing. That means the manufacturing workforce must handle a continuous stream of product variations, flexible manufacturing operations and advanced technologies.

The end result is a massive shift in skill sets from untrained manual labour to highly trained and highly skilled technology workers, which all leads to an exponential skills gap in the manufacturing workforce. This, again, is why people and not technology will cause the bumps in the road when it comes to an Industry 4.0 endeavour. Even the best Industry 4.0 technologies have little impact if no one uses them. That’s why change management is a critical component of any Industry 4.0 endeavour.

Leading Change
Change management is easier said than done, and it doesn’t happen by accident. The first thing that’s needed is leadership. The leaders of an organization must be prepared with the strategies and tactics necessary to communicate and drive change. There’s no quicker way to end the whole change process than having leaders who are anything less than fully committed.

While everyone talks about change happening across the organization, that’s not the way it happens at all. Change is individual, and it happens in different ways and at different speeds with different people. In the same way that people learn in different ways, people change in different ways, so one size won’t fit all. Change leaders need to account for the differences in people so that, while the change must ultimately align with the organization, it’s the individual that changes in their own unique way.

Since we’re all human beings, we all tend to resist change to one degree or another — even very good change. Resistance to change is just part of being human. When using the strategies and tactics to achieve change, you must also be aware of this resistance and proactively manage it.

Resistance will come from different people in different ways and for different reasons. It’s important to understand an individual’s point of view, understand their objections and help them remove the obstacles to change. You can’t do it for them, but you can help them. Ultimately, let them be successful on their own, in their own way, to get past their resistance and their obstacles.

Planning For Change
To achieve this change, it takes more than a wish and hope; it takes a strong plan with many different elements. A good change management plan might typically cover topics such as communications, training, coaching and resistance management — just to name a few — and have details on tasks, activities, resources, budget and schedule. More than that, the change management plan needs to be structured with some very basic change processes and approaches in mind.

The plan needs to be preventative. It needs to factor in the possible sources of resistance and then have specific elements to prevent these areas of resistance from causing problems. Said another way, the change management plan needs to have a strong risk management element with measurement, mitigation and contingency plans integral to the overall plan.

The plan needs to be proactive. It cannot be a passive plan. It cannot expect that change will occur simply because the leadership is behind it or because there’s a steady stream of communications coming out on why the change is important. The plan must have specific tasks and activities to proactively achieve the change, ensure the success of the change and reinforce and sustain the change over the long term.

The plan needs to be responsive. Things won’t go as planned. That’s a given. That means you must deal with the bumps in the road. Get feedback and use metrics and diagnostics to analyze where the bumps are coming from. Dig deep and get to the root causes, not just the symptoms. Take specific actions to help people remove the obstacles and get back on track. Keep in mind that a successful plan continually trains, coaches and reinforces the change.

A Smart Approach To Change
In the end, a smart, strong approach to change management is absolutely required for any Industry 4.0 endeavour to be successful. You probably already have a high-performing team of individuals, engineering people, IT people and such who are making the technology side work.

Now you need to put together a strong team to work on the people side because it’s going to be the people who make or break the whole endeavour. Make sure the people adopt smart technology and ultimately get the business result and business value from it. A strong approach to change management isn’t just a good idea; it’s an absolute necessity to the success of any Industry 4.0 endeavour.