Posted by: knightbird | January 13, 2015

Moving Into the Unknown

Lean practices take most employees’ way out of their comfort zone. Learned behaviors that have taken us to where we are today are hard to let go. There are plenty of reasons for refusing to let go of old knowledge and practices. There are very few takers and Lean Leaders need to learn how to overcome the excuses you will hear as you try to change a workplace culture.

The first step to change is to have the Chief Executive (CE) on board. Their support is critical and any behaviors exhibited supporting the old culture will be quickly noted by staff. If you have a CE who doesn’t believe change is necessary, it won’t happen. Any CE who understands the strategic requirements for change and can communicate the requirements to staff frequently will meet with better success. A CE who appoints someone to make the company lean does not understand the need and cannot communicate it.

Lean is a strategic move. It needs to be a long-term initiative. A company in crisis is the most likely candidate for change. The state of Alaska is in crisis, but change will not occur until the CE (Governor) believes that change can happen and that it can benefit the state. I have communicated that knowledge to the Governor, but I also stated that I would not advocate any further for its implementation in Alaska. I spoke to him twice, emailed once and wrote a public opinion piece in the Alaska Dispatch News. I will move on to other candidates who understand its strategic importance to providing public services.

In the context of medical knowledge, Dr. Abram Hoffer said that change doesn’t really occur until 50% of the general population and 10% of the professional population involved in the old knowledge get on board with the new knowledge. And it takes a long time for that to happen. In existing companies, it has been said that 95% of all employees will resist change. There are many excuses for resistance. I encounter excuses like: that’s not true (based on opinion); We don’t do things that way; we are not a car company; I won’t practice cookie cutter medicine; we are different; we have already tried that; it’s not my idea so I am not interested; we need experts to help us; we can’t afford to fail; and we don’t have enough money. There are lots of others.

I have always looked for “early adopters.” If 95% of employees resist, then that means 5% are open to change. If a CE can have a strategic initiative started to introduce and implement Lean, the next step I advocate for is to identify the management early adopters. We need successful improvements, which is not likely to happen if you entrust the improvement events to a resister. In one Kaizen conducted under my authority as a CE, the manager of the department took all of the A-3’s developed during a Kaizen publicly stating that they were incomplete. In fact, the real purpose was to take documents that were critical of numerous processes out of discussion. In effect, the work that was hidden remained hidden. Fortunately, copies had been made of many of the A-3’s, and the criticisms about the work done by the department well known. Having an early adopter managing the improvement process ensures that they are learning and want to be successful.

Creating a “Respect for People” Lean Culture is important. I run into individuals who look at every comment made about defective processes as criticism, and they take it personally. Changing this outlook is difficult, but without it, employees will continue to hide errors and defective work. And until they learn to accept that problems are everywhere, they will not adopt the critical culture of Lean for “Continuous Improvement.” Every problem and defect needs to be addressed if it has the potential for delivery to a customer. And by customer, I mean both internal and external customers. The lofty goal of Lean is to eliminate all defects and continuously increase value and lower cost to customers. We set the bar as high as we can, even though we know we are not likely to achieve it.

For a pitcher, a perfect game is striking out 27 batters with 81 pitches. Yet targeting 27 batters put out on 27 pitches could also be considered a perfect game. This second view engages the entire team, in addition to the pitcher and catcher. Can we ever reach the second view? Probably not. But in preparation, we can target having every batter swing at the first pitch, followed by flawless fielding, relays of the baseball and achieving the out. We want to set the bar high because that encourages us to dream big and practice with purpose. We know what potential is.

I was also fortunate to sit through a days worth of training on “Humble Inquiry.” As articulated by Dr. Edgar Schein, 90% of our behaviors in the work place are driven by cultural rules and not personality. He advocates for changing behaviors by inquiring about the existing culture and its participants with genuine interest. He talks about building trust and allowing change to occur as employees make change happen. What I have discovered is that once employees find a better way of doing work without being told what to do, they become excited. It’s probably because you are asking them to use their brain and seek solutions to the problems they identify.

John Shook stated Dr. Schein’s point in another way.

“What my NUMMI experience taught me that was so powerful was that the way to change culture is not to first change how people think, but instead to start by changing how people behave—and what they do. Those of us trying to change our organization’s culture need to define the things we want to do, the ways we want to behave as well as want each other to behave, to provide training as well as then to do what is necessary to reinforce those behaviors. The culture will change as a result.”

If we set lofty goals, identify early adopters, engage them in change according to a strategic direction set after considerable back and forth discussion, we are more likely to engage the organization in doing work the new way.

The first step into the unknown requires wanting to go there. Columbus and early explorers were driven by the lure of finding a new and shorter route to the spices of the Far East. Along the way, they added to the knowledge of the greater culture they lived in and inspired others to seek their interests. A leader who sets the organization out to the unknown, with all the knowledge that exists, and gets the willing onboard through identification and encouragement, will start movement. As the organization learns by doing new things, the culture will spread as new knowledge is discovered and shared. When early adopters reap the rewards of their early adoption, others will choose the successful path.

We can’t forget that many will opt out of the journey. That is their choice, and there are plenty of other job elsewhere that they are suitable for. Some will mutiny, and need to be removed. Their numbers will be very small, maybe non-existent. Much depends on the skill of the CE in Humble Inquiry.

Because I have been there, I understand the unknown world of Lean is frightening, but very rewarding. Not just financially, but in the health of a workplace as well. And a successful, healthy workplace can grow to provide more opportunity and benefits for existing as well as future employees.

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