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Leading change in industrial energy efficiency

An unfounded accusation or the frightening facts? Industry is sometimes portrayed as resistant to change. And yet there are methods available today that would enable industrial companies to bring changes in gradually, even where energy is concerned. The secret is to approach change from the viewpoint of the operational staff. Guy Wallerand, in-company operational consultant on change projects and deputy director at Blu.e, explains how it works.

 

What do you think is the most important rule for managing change in industry?

I believe any guidance and support should be given within the context of everyday actions. In other words, if a person doesn’t understand why and how they have to change, no change is going to happen. Most of the time, strategic changes are initiated by senior management. But the teams on the ground are not told what is at stake in the changes, why they are important. So for the last 30 years, it’s been my job to translate these strategic intentions into the everyday experience of operational staff. Whether they work for production, maintenance, accounts or the in-house design department.

 

In practice, how do you deliver this guidance and support on the ground?

I start by meeting with all of the company’s business lines concerned by the change and asking them to explain to me what they currently do on a day-to-day basis (i.e. before the change). If the project concerns energy efficiency, I’ll ask them more specifically to list everything they do that has a bearing on energy consumption.

The second step is to gain a thorough understanding of what the change project is meant to achieve, from the viewpoint of management and the chosen solution. For example: let’s say the factory wants to save 10% on its energy bill by implementing a monitoring and operational management solution such as Blu.e (which smooths out energy consumption). My job will then be to go back and talk to the operational staff. First, to explain how the changes will affect their everyday activities in practice, and second, to show them the importance of their efforts, which will help achieve the company’s objectives. I call this the “distance to cover”. This distance varies with each person concerned by the change.

 

During this latter phase, I can imagine you are not always very welcome…

Not necessarily. The employees are often grateful for the interest you show in their job. At their level, change can have three possible outcomes:

  • one of their tasks is removed,
  • they are given a new, additional task,
  • or they are asked to change an existing task.

In any case, I’m there to explain why the change is being made. For example, where energy efficiency is concerned, it is absolutely essential to translate the new action into energy saved. Otherwise, there’s no point.

 

Is there a particularly telling example you could share with us?

Take the case of a factory equipped with steam traps on a steam system. ADEME recommends servicing this type of equipment annually because every year around 30% of the steam traps start to leak. If you have 150 steam traps, these malfunctions can represent a loss of €10,000, €20,000 or even €50,000 per year and per factory. These are the figures you should be telling the maintenance teams. Without this information, they won’t understand why annual servicing of all steam traps is now part of their preventive maintenance duties.

 

There will always be a handful of recalcitrants. How do you get them to change their mind?

Any method has its limits. To reduce the risks, I usually train some “key users”. At the end of my assignment, these line-of-business experts become change managers. I make sure they have all the tools and information they need to guide and support their colleagues through the change over the long term and win over those least enthusiastic about the changes. If there is a legitimate purpose and a sound solution, the majority of employees will adopt the changes. With time, the more intransigent colleagues will end up going with the flow. To sum up, I’d say that we are often a key intermediary between senior managers and operational staff in change projects: a sort of interpreter.

 

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About the author

Guy Wallerand is deputy director at Blu.e, specialised in company change management. His method is based on employee engagement in change projects.