Editor’s Note: Ron Leeman is a world-recognized Change Manager and author of several Change, Process, and Project training guides on Flevy. He has decided to write a series of articles that chronicle his personal “change” journey. This is the first installment. You can learn more about Ron and his approach to Change in our recent interview with him.
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I have decided to write a series of articles about my “change” experiences, since I first became involved in the discipline. To be honest, this is a bit of a nostalgia trip for me and will also be a test of my memory because I will be going back over 40-years.
Maybe I will eventually turn it into a book… you never know!
My intention is to create awareness that the “change” discipline is not new, that the tools and techniques I learned many years ago still stand me in good stead today, and to show how I metamorphosed from those early days into what I am today.
Later on in the series, I will be focusing on specific “case studies” and give a “warts and all” account of some of the many Business Change projects and programmes I have been involved in, the organizations I worked for, the people I have worked with (not by name of course), a synopsis of the actual assignments, the challenges they presented, and how things ended up which will include both success and failure. In the process, I hope that readers will gain a better appreciation of the subject of change from a truly practical perspective and also to give you a bit of a laugh… he used to do what?
I will not “preach the gospel” on how I think Business Change should be practised, nor do I profess to having learned everything there is to know about the subject, but I hope that my experiences will provide some enlightenment and insights for you.
These articles will be in four main phases:
- Phase 1 (1969 to 1989) – the UK Ministry of Defence Year.
- Phase 2 (1989 to 1996) – The Abbey National/Abbey years.
- Phase 3 (1996 to 2011) – The Leeman Associates Ltd and Conference & Training Services Ltd years … my time spent as an Independent Consultant on the contract market in the UK, Europe and internationally and organising “business improvement” events in the UK. I will probably need to break this down into sub-phases because this is where I will be detailing specific case studies.
- Phase 4 (2011 to present) – The Highway of Change years … my time spent since moving to SE Asia
In this first article I will deal with my UK Ministry of Defence years.
1969 to 1979
I went to school in Malta but left there in 1969 and initially went to Germany (where I was born) to seek meaningful employment. Unfortunately that didn’t work out for various reasons so I moved to the UK and wanted to get into something that involved my artistic side but this was a bit of a “pipedream” as nothing, apart from window dressing, was available at that time. So what happened, in 1969 I started work for the Ministry of Defence at what was then known as the Central Ordnance Depot (Logistics) in Bicester, OXON initially performing roles such as a Clerical Assistant and Clerical Officer on administrative type jobs. Then in 1974 I had the opportunity to go on a number of full-time Work Study courses (R M Currie) at what was then the Royal Military College of Science in Shrivenham, UK (now the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom).
These courses included Method Study and Work Measurement followed later by Project Planning using something called Programme Evaluation & Review Technique (PERT):
Plus Organisation & Methods and Micro-Computing (now there’s a good old term). Following the successful completion of these courses I became a fully-fledged Work Study Practitioner and I regard this as the start of my career in Change Management as it is now known. I can hear you say “but Work Study is not Change Management”? Well actually it was because it involved observing the way people went about their work, mapping their processes, critically examining them and coming up with a better way of doing things. This then had to be sold to managers and their teams and then implementing the new ways of working!
As an example of some of the work I got involved in:
This was work in support of the local Incentive Scheme and involved “timing” with a stop watch using the “flyback” method … can anyone remember that? Memories of Work Measurement activity included measuring:
- Loading and unloading tyres of all sizes.
- The cyclical maintenance of Fork Lift trucks.
- Selection and despatch of Tank engines.
- The delivery of supplies to various locations across the Depot by their internal rail freight system. Picture this if you can … me standing on the running board a train, clip board and stopwatch in hand measuring how long it took to deliver and pick-up wagons of goods from each of the major warehouses.
- Receipt and despatch of all manner of goods into their main warehouse. Again picture this … working on-site in the Depot there were very few offices available so for this particular job we worked out of a caravan which I remember this particularly well because it entailed a very early morning start so we used to cook breakfast using the caravans amenities.
Other work areas included such salubrious locations as a railway wagon and a broom cupboard.
This was all about improving the way in which people undertook their work and involved process mapping using a 5-shape ASME template (American Society of Mechanical Engineers)…and the SREDIM methodology (Select, Record, Examine, Develop, Install & Maintain).
My memories of Method Study work includes:
- Undertaking a study into the best way to store Ceremonial Military Uniforms e.g. was it best to pack them in boxes or hang them on rails taking due consideration of the value of the uniforms and future usage? The result was the design of special racking for the uniforms in which the uniforms could be hung with a suitable protective cover.
- Looking into the cost-effectiveness of providing a daily tea & coffee delivery service versus the provision of vending machines taking due consideration of the individuality of service and quality of the beverages. Unfortunately the result of this was making our beloved “tea lady” redundant and having to stomach vended coffee and tea.
- Planning office moves using String Diagrams to map the movement of people and paperwork between offices. The thicker the layers of string showed that the movement of people and paperwork between the office locations was more prevalent. The aim was to reduce these movements thereby increasing efficiency and lost productivity.
1979 to 1983
Between 1979 and 1983, I went into the field of Human Resources in Leconfield, North Humberside followed by a stint in Cologne, Germany but that’s not what this article is about so let me move on to 1983 until 1989.
1983 to 1989
Following my stint in Germany, I returned to COD Bicester to resume my Work Study career which consisted of two phases:
Phase 1 – as a Work Study Practitioner following on from my previous role at COD Bicester and was really just taking a step back in time to what I previously did.
My main “claim to fame” during this 2nd stint was that I, along with a colleague (I forget his name), was made responsible for looking at alternatives to using a stopwatch for Work Measurement activity. This involved evaluating a number of different, what was then “state of the art” electronic Work Measurement boards, that were available. I can’t remember which one we eventually opted for but one of the systems we evaluated was from a company called TecTime who, coincidentally, are still around today.
Phase 2 – as a Business Improvement Officer for what was called the Small Systems Group (SSG) which was part of the Directorate of Supply and Computer Management in COD Bicester.
This was my first real introduction to the world of computers. The role involved visiting various Army Units both in the UK and Germany to evaluate requests from them for small business systems to replace their old inefficient paper based systems.
The irony of this job was that we made hand-written notes during our visits and then wrote up these notes into a paper report which was subsequently converted into a typed report by a Word Processor Operator on what I think was a Compaq Deskpro with the report being printed on an Epson dot-matrix printer.
Most of the small systems we recommended in those days were called Apricot which was a British company that produced desktop personal computers, such as the Apricot PC and the Apricot Xi, that competed with the IBM PC and the Apple Macintosh.
Apricot was an innovative computer hardware company, whose Birmingham R&D centre could build every aspect of a personal computer except for the integrated circuits (chips) themselves, from custom BIOS and system-level programming to the silk-screen of motherboards and metal-bending for internal chassis all the way to radio-frequency testing of a finished system. This coupled with a smart and aggressive engineering team allowed Apricot to be the first company in the world with several technical innovations including the first commercial shipment of an all-in-one system with a 3.5-inch floppy drive (ahead of Apple).
I resigned from the MoD in 1989 because of the strict protocols in place regarding promotion e.g. X number of years in the job, X number of above satisfactory work reviews etc. Basically you could not get promoted on merit alone so, after some 20 years, I left to join what was then Abbey National which later converted from a Building Society into a Bank and became Abbey. This will be the subject of my next article … Part 2.
Watch this space.