Who wants to change? Nobody, really. Change is threatening. Change is difficult. We tend to get comfortable with the status quo – “go with the flow”. Trim the sails a little, perhaps, to accommodate slight change in prevailing winds and business currents. Corporate leaders have built the organization in their image – so far they have been successful. It takes a lot of self awareness to envision a better future and lead the march into uncharted territory. Even if they knew they needed to make a major change, who do they trust? How do they do it? Middle management, from Directors down to Supervisors and Team Leads, have the most to gain from lean efforts yet also have the most to lose. It is likely they got their position by being really good at making things work in the current system. They’ve customized it and tricked it out so they know what buttons to push and where all the bones are buried. They answer all the questions, but with varying amounts of certainty, and have everything to lose when we talk about giving a voice to the operators or front line workers. Production associates, office workers and those who do the everyday work that adds value are almost universally suspicious of change – with reason. They know things can improve, but know from experience in the first downturn or “improvement in efficiency” their livelihood is threatened.
Change models break down the change process into clear steps to help change agents enable the transition. Well known among them is ADKAR model, created by Prosci founder Jeff Hiatt. It is easy to understand and use, so I will walk you through it:
- Awareness – know the change is necessary and on its way. This is the What.
- Desire – feel the change holds something good for the organization and for us as individuals. This is the Why.
- Knowledge – the tool set for change. Knowing the tools with some context in their use. Lean and Six Sigma tools with an emphasis on problem solving. Also awareness of organizational issues affecting the change process. Those with knowledge help shape the Who, Where, and When.
- Ability – knowing which tools to use in what circumstances, and how to apply them effectively. This becomes better and better as our problem solving muscle memory improves. Knowledge + Ability = How
- Reinforcement – New cultures and behaviors must be adopted, along with metrics to ensure the change is both effective and sustained. Without Reinforcement, there is no sustained change. New habits generally take 20 repetitions to stick. New culture takes far more.
Oftentimes people are aware of the need for change, but are not comfortable with it so they convince themselves the change is unnecessary, burying their heads in sand. This anxiety, knowing but not wanting to know, creates stress throughout the organization and wears and tears all levels. This is where Leaders need to be out front, selling the change and reducing the fear of it. Suspicion may be high, especially if the proposed change may have been sold before but did not stick.
Desire is achieved by connecting awareness of the need for change with something good that will come of it. It makes us realize why we need to change, and whets our appetite for the impending change, lowering resistance and fear associated with both the change process and the change itself. It is important to instill desire in ALL levels of the organization. Each level of the organization must see the positive effects of the change, even if the only positive is the plant’s survival. Senior management is usually a well known entity and a small enough group that those most resistant to change are easily identifiable and can be addressed individually, either by educating them or marginalizing them. Middle management will often be split on any major change. Some will become early adopters, even evangelical, of the change. Others will resist and spread negativity. Many of these are formal as well as informal leaders, so every effort should be made to meet this group and get them on board. The fervent resistors will have to be asked to move on or will forever be eroding change efforts. Front line associates may be wary, but are generally reasonable and adaptable to changing circumstances. Harley Davidson confronted its union in York, Pennsylvania plant with a choice: either we change how we operate and lay off half of the workforce, or the plant will close and move out of state. The union chose to lose half their members to make it work, and the plant flourished. Usually the change is not that drastic, but it can be done effectively.
Knowledge is the tool set for change. Just how are we going to effect this change? How will we operate? Many of the tools are basic blocking and tackling: learning the four drives of Lean (workplace organization, uninterrupted flow, quality at the source, and single minute exchange of die). Other tools include problem solving (basic and advanced using Six Sigma tools), business literacy, leadership (communication, human resource skills), and risk management.
Knowledge alone will not affect change. Knowledge needs to be put into practice in order to build your Ability to drive change. This ability grows with practice implementing the knowledge. Early attempts will likely struggle, so early kaizen attempts should be easy to win (focus on Workplace Organization at first). Focus your efforts on a few key areas and seek to make lasting improvements (see section above). Part of your selection should be based on personnel – managers and supervisors who are early adopters should be in your initial target areas. As people find their voice with early victories, more difficult issues can be addressed.
Reinforcement, both positive and negative, is the key to sustaining change. The simplest tools of reinforcement include a visible and visual KPI metric system reviewed daily along with visible problem solving efforts. Seek Lead Measures for goals and strive to improve on those metrics. Lead Measures foretell the result: they are both Predictive (measure something that leads to the goal) and Influenceable (something we can influence). Some examples of predictive goals include the number of sales calls required to get a request for bid, or the number of safety “near misses” before an accident happens. Go after high sales calls and bid requests will follow: elevate management of “near misses” to identify and reduce safety hazards, and thus accidents. Just as “near misses” foretell accidents, quality and or delivery problems will foretell costs: focus on quality and your costs will decrease just as deliveries increase. Repeated selling of successes and a focus on problem solving by all levels of management will reinforce the change and make it stick.
What to Change
“It’s easy to decide what you’re going to do. The hard thing is deciding what you’re not going to do.” – Michael Dell
Once you have a vision of change and are convinced change is in order it is very tempting to launch 1,000 ships to make it happen post haste. Be careful with your limited resources – many of those ships will run aground. Others will be lost, never to be heard from again. A few ships will find a welcoming port and start some islands of excellence, but the disjointed effort will be easily unhinged, or at best be very difficult to sustain. It is much better to plan carefully and roll out the change in a strategic manner.
One strategic maxim is concentration of force: Focus. A planned, concentrated effort is more likely to yield positive results than a general blast. McChesney, Covey, and Huling, in their book The 4 Disciplines of Execution maintain that an excessive number of goals (more than 3) lead to dilution of effort and lower achievement levels. The key to success is to carefully select a very few goals identify and focus on what activities drive that goal (rather than focus on the goal itself). So review your proposed changes and develop a logical sequence for moves towards the desired end. Put in lean terms, start with a good map of your current state, develop a future state, and a series of kaizen events to get you where you want to go.
Planning for Change
“Everyone has a plan until you get hit in the face” – Mike Tyson
Many have written that a lean journey is like driving across the country at night. Our headlights give us a limited view, but we basically know where we are going and we have a map. I like to think of a lean journey, especially if it is a major transformation, as sailing to a distant island. Even with the most sophisticated navigational equipment, we have to deal with currents and the weather. Sailing requires constant attention to detail and trimming sails to stay on course. Sometimes the winds are favorable and the sailing is smooth. Other times we are in a tremendous storm – wet, nasty, and a little scary. Nevertheless if we trust our ship and our captain, we can take heart and sail onward, all the while wearing our life jackets. And some of the sights and experiences we take in along the way are fantastic – they are life affirming.
The act of drawing a Value Stream Map (VSM) lays bare the current state and prompts valuable discussions of possible future states. Included in the mapping process is the developing of appropriate metrics, including market rate (takt time), current process times, and the development of standards through time studies. The VSM and time studies become the center of debate and teaching, both learning to see current operations more clearly and evaluating future opportunities. One powerful effect of mapping any process is that it can be viewed objectively – it is no longer “your process” or “my process” but rather, THE process. That prompts objective discussions and keeps personalities out of the discussion. This then becomes the basis of planning and the transition to the future state. Keep your maps posted on walls as both a reference and a teaching tool.
Baby Steps: Toyota Kata
Mike Rother’s landmark book Toyota Kata codified Toyota’s change management system as one of baby steps, always moving from current condition towards a desired target condition, analogous to stepping up a staircase. At each step (or “landing”) processes are controlled and stabilized in preparation for the next step, cementing the gains. Some attempts at change fail – if so we can always go back one step and resume our efforts to climb forward.
The problem solving engine in the illustration is a PDCA cycle, further explained in my post entitled Kaizen Progression and Continuous Improvement.
Where Change Fails
Change efforts are tremendous undertakings, and can fail at any point in the change process. In some cases, the effort never gets off the ground; in others huge investments are wasted or returns are diluted due to failures late in the process.
- Awareness: If the organization is not aware of the need for change they will often be overcome by the changes around them. This is the case of disruptive technologies or insular management. In such cases, by the time management is aware of the need for change they don’t have enough runway or resources to make it happen. By the same token, if leadership is aware of the need for change but does not communicate it well and often they will not have the support they need to pull it off.
- Desire: Even if we are aware of the need to change, we may not want to change. Consider an obese middle aged man. He knows his life is threatened by his poor eating habits and lack of exercise, but he cannot come to grips with it and grabs beer and chips for game day. The same could be said for a supervisor who has risen up the ranks by knowing the little things but may feel threatened by some of the changes he is learning about. Until he desires the change he will sit it out and wait for it to go away, as it likely has in the past. Change without desire will fail.
- Knowledge: some change failures can be traced back to a lack of training or training concentrated on too few individuals. A few people may know what is going on, but if a key individual gets on a bus or gets hit by a bus the whole effort is in jeopardy. An associated problem is the fact we tend to want to solve all the problems with the tools we are most comfortable with. Just as everything looks like a nail to a man wielding a hammer, we all tend to migrate towards our comfort tools. Some believe kanban systems will cure World Hunger, while others are sticklers for visual planning boards. The truth is, there is a myriad of common sense lean tools out there, from Workplace Organization to SMED to 5 Whys. All have their place, and all should be used as the circumstances dictate.
- Ability: Sometimes well-intentioned change efforts fail because of the team’s lack of ability to control the process through the change. This usually manifests itself in quality problems – excessive process variation. Without a stabilized process, we cannot take the next step in our journey. It may be there are too many demands on too few resources – people are stretched thin and don’t cement the gains, moving from one fire to another and lacking focus. Or perhaps the team is not good at problem solving or facing a particularly difficult set of problems. This would have the same effect – high process variation (defects) and a loss of momentum.
What to do if You Are Struggling
The change process I propose is an iterative one – step by step. Each step leading to the next. If things get out of control, step back, and center yourself. Re-establish Workplace Organization. Regain process control. Take a good look a flow through the process. Where does the flow get interrupted? Find your bottleneck, be it due to a lack of resources or a weak process, and concentrate your efforts there. Trim back and get back to basics of blocking and tackling.
Also be sure to review the ADKAR model for missed steps or breakdowns. If you are far down the change path it is likely your problems are due to lack of sustained leadership or reinforcement. What gets measured gets done. Are you measuring and emphasizing the right things?
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