the net - business

Levi’s Changes Everything

An inside account of the most dramatic change program in American business.

I came across this article as I was searching for tips on how to help employees navigate through change, in relation to a challenging project I was working on. This great find became the source of inspiration to guide me in the advice and recommendations I provided. Love it!

Especially this excerpt:

So many efforts like this fail. What steps did you take early on to improve the odds of success?

We did a fascinating exercise in October 1993, midway through the design phase. We took 70 veteran managers from across the company and reviewed every major change program in our history. We went off-site for two days. We wrote on easels, filled up flip charts, basically created storyboards of change. Then we analyzed which programs had worked, which hadn’t, and why.

We reached two conclusions. One, we’re much better at starting change than finishing it. We get people excited, charge forward, then somehow the momentum evaporates.

The second conclusion — and this had a real impact on us — was that we haven’t done a good job preparing people for change. That doesn’t mean sloganeering. It means getting down to the level of real human beings. What do they worry about? What gets them excited? What new skills and behaviors do they need?

So we created a collection of resources to help people move forward: videos, seminars, workbooks, self-diagnostics. You can’t expect people to change if you don’t give them the tools. But we don’t spoon-feed materials to anyone. We create opportunities for people to change, but we can’t change them. They have to change themselves.


Sidebar: Tools

1. “The Little Blue Book”
Spring 1994 was an anxious time at Levi’s. The new supply chain had been designed, but rollout was months away. So the change team created a handbook to help people prepare.

“Individual Readiness for a Changing Environment” is an informal, 145-page binder (dubbed the “little blue book”) full of self-assessment tools and self-improvement resources. One section, called Knowing Myself, contains diagnostics that measure personal values, interests, talents, and attitudes. Another section, Taking Action, offers advice on upgrading skills. A final section, Marketing Myself, presents a refresher course on resumes and interviews.

In the spirit of self-reliance, Levi’s didn’t blanket the company with books; employees had to request it. “It’s amazing how long people kept asking for it,” says Susan Weaver, a member of the “individual Readiness” team. “We had to keep producing copies.” Ultimately, more than 4,000 people asked for copies.

Weaver says the “little blue book” sent a clear message: “People understand that they are responsible for their career, their path through Levi’s. You are the author of your own life now.”

2. “The Lunch Box”
Question: How do you prepare thousands of people to apply for jobs they’ve never heard of in an organization that’s never existed?

Answer: “Mapping Your Future,” a collection of materials (known as “the lunch box”) describing the new Levi’s and the process for staffing it. It contains booklets for outlining design principles behind the new company, posters tracing the interview-and-evaluation process, even a career-planning workbook. Unveiled in November 1994, it became the most important self-help tool in the change process.

“We have lots of people who haven’t done a job interview in 10 years,” says Paula Piccirilli, a member of the “Mapping Your Future” team. “I don’t care what level you’re at, that’s scary.”
Levi’s distributed nearly 4,500 lunch boxes — 4,000 in English, about 400 in Spanish. Nearly 1,500 employees attended follow-up workshops. The material, everyone agrees, had a genuine impact.

“One sales executive told us he spent 60 hours poring over the information,” says Piccirilli. “He was an extreme case. He also wound up as a vice president in the Dockers organization.”

3. “Graphic Gameplan”
At Levi Strauss & Co., as at so many companies, more work is becoming teamwork. But it’s not always easy for new teams to agree on key objectives and priority action items. Enter the Graphic Gameplan.

The Gameplan process (which requires a full day to complete) invites team members to discuss themselves and their work and to post notes as the conversation proceeds. The group creates, in one giant display, a visual overview of the group’s resources and work challenges. A finished Gameplan includes a team portrait, critical success factors, key obstacles, major work categories.
The Gameplan has become a popular tool inside Levi’s — in part because it’s built around conversation, in part because the output is so visual. “People have taken it up without anyone helping them,” says Susan Weaver. “We have a colleague in Brazil to whom we send stuff. She did a Gameplan with a team there. A few weeks later, she told us, there were new Gameplan displays in three different meeting rooms. People were doing it themselves, in Portuguese. It’s just so usable.”

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