28 June 2023

Why fear of change is bad for business

Avoidance of the new might offer some protection from risk for individuals, but fear of change is a huge danger for businesses, says our CEO Katherine Bennett.

Two people walking through a manufacturing facility

Humans’ instinctive fear of change is so common that there is even a word for it – metathesiophobia.

Psychologists tell us fear of change is evolutionary. We are programmed to be afraid of the new because that keeps us safe, helps us to survive.

Avoidance of the new might offer some protection from risk for individuals, but fear of change is a huge danger for businesses. They are less likely to keep pace with the changing aspirations of their customers, outmanoeuvre competitors or tackle problems in their existing operations.

One of the great business fears is increasing digital adoption to fundamentally revitalise and grow their operations. This is why the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, which was created with £140m of government funding nearly a dozen years ago, is so important. We bring together companies, scientists and engineers to develop cutting-edge products and services, using technology to transform business fortunes.

Let me outline three excellent examples of companies brave enough to embrace digital innovation, transforming their fortunes.

Robotics for construction materials

The first is Sheffield’s Footprint Tools, a 150-year-old business that has been owned by four generations of the same family. Hugely successful in the hey-day of coal and steel, the low-wage economies of the Far East and the 2008 financial crisis brought the company to the brink of closure.

To survive, Footprint needed ambition and a helping hand. The family turned to our centre in Rotherham, the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre.

Together, they developed a robot cell to produce the company’s signature product, a humble builder’s line pin. Freeing up skilled workers for other tasks, Footprint now fulfils orders three times faster, keeping prices competitive and their customers happier.

Reshoring is good business

The second is vehicle hardware supplier Albert Jagger, which has traded since 1887. The team wanted to return some of its production capacity from China to the UK.

This ‘reshoring’ required the transformation of its Bloxwich engineering facility. Using visualisation tools and world leading-expertise in manufacturing optimisation, our team at the Manufacturing Technology Centre in Coventry showed Albert Jagger just what could be achieved. The shop floor was live mapped in a risk-free way before any significant capital investment was needed.

Today, Albert Jagger can make their product range in-house for half the price of the outsourced operation in China. Profit soared by 50%, customer satisfaction improved by a quite staggering 600%. The Bloxwich facility was transformed, accommodating an expanded workforce.

Cycling to victory

The third is Stratford-upon-Avon’s Pashley Cycles, England’s longest established bike manufacturer. Pashley approached our team at the WMG to work out how it could win the contract to supply Transport for London’s London Cycle Hire Scheme. Pashley had never previously bid for such an ambitious project.

WMG’s experts helped Pashley rapidly develop a new product design, demonstrating how metal and plastic-moulded parts could be used in place of traditional materials. WMG also contacted its extensive network of UK manufacturers to firmly anchor the supply chain for plastic components in the UK. Completed in just two weeks, the project meant Pashley secured a five-year contract to supply a new generation of hire bikes.

These are just three examples of companies harnessing the power of new technologies – particularly digital – to transform their prospects. Too often, a business’s fear of change is its cause of death. With the support of politicians, we want to make sure that metathesiophobia is a dirty word in the business community, a threat to growth that is removed in the next stage of our evolution.

Hear Katherine’s full keynote speech on this topic below


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