Posted by: Knightbird | March 4, 2017

Searching for a Root Cause for Resistance to Change


Lean Thinking tells me that when we encounter a problem, we seek for a root cause. My Native corporation has a real problem with figuring out how to make a profit in its operations. For years, our solution was to buy profitable companies and use our competitive advantage, an ability to use the Small Business Administration’s section 8(a) program. Before we settled on using 8(a) as a business vehicle, we resisted that. We started our foray into 8(a) late. There were Village Corporations who entered the 8(a) world long before we did, and they are far more successful than we are as well. Despite years of pointing out the advantage of 8(a), Lean Thinking and other business practices, I encountered heavy resistance. Since 2004, my entry into Lean Thinking changed my view of how businesses should operate. When I started Lean, I encountered some heavy resistance, and had to devise methods for overcoming it. More recently, I decided to treat resistance as a Lean Problem. The first step is to define the problem. I basically stated that “a substantial percentage of business leaders, board members, President/CEO’s, executives and top managers will resist introduction of Lean Management.”

The second step is to map out the path of resistance. I introduced the concept in 2005, and eventually was able to include a small Lean pilot project into an annual compensation plan. It was so tepid that a good sensei would achieve the outstanding part of the goal in one week, and ask for more. I know that because we did it. One sensei conducted 4 Kaizen events in one week. We started with 3, but added a 4th when one employee changed her resistance on the 3rd day and asked to map her main value stream. I only asked for 3 kaizen in one year. The President/CEO went and hired a consultant, conducted lots of training and held a few events. We removed it from the compensation plan the following year and the effort completely disappeared. So I started fresh. One board member agreed with my suggestion to bring in a top level Lean Sensei. It never happened. I suggested board members attend a Lean Conference. Only one member took me up on that suggestion. I have previously invited board members to visit my non-profit and talk to the employees who did a great job of adopting and implementing Lean in a true cultural sense. Only one did, and he spent literally no time talking to the people who did the work, and instead wanted to lobby me on changes.

I provide countess examples of success, provided data and information, anecdotes and stories. But to no avail. The two members of the board trained in Finance asked me to delay the implementation for a couple of years. It is said in Lean presentations constantly that Finance is the most difficult profession to convert, and I agree.

I have read and attended workshops on different strategies for overcoming resistance. There are quite a few. Edgar Schein has proposed humble inquiry. Others talk about listening more than talking. An exercise done at a recent Lean Conference came up with can Lean be introduced from the middle management level (I don’t think it can be cone effectively, although you might see some improvement). One area I am digging into is the study of bias. What it taught me is that Finance professionals acquire their bias over years, and they look for confirmation in everything they read. All d times I introduced the concept of Lean Thinking, some employee(s) felt the need to surf the internet for Lean trolls. I even acquired a Lean troll on my blog and had to block him. This bias is referred to as the “Confirmation Bias.” Finance professionals also seem to have “Déformation professionnelle,” which is a fancy way of saying a tendency to look at things from the conventions of your own profession, rather than taking a broad, more expansive view. I was also a victim of “Groupthink,” a conforming of one’s own opinions towards a group consensus. We made a lot of bad decision because of this Groupthink.

There are many other biases being studied. But they only provide an explanation for the problem, not a solution.

I am currently looking at the research about changing minds. It’s voluminous, and still hasn’t achieved the focus we seek on a proposed solution with a high degree of successful introduction. And I don’t have a place to try any experiment I come up with. I think back to how Steve Jobs was successful where conventional businessman John Scully was not. Jobs was autocratic and could be downright mean when pushing for improvement. Yet he was revered by a segment of his employees. What eventually chased him out of Apple was the board of directors, who were probably finance professionals focused on a bottom line. When you look at their results, they almost bankrupted Apple, and Jobs returned.

Somewhere in the research is a next target condition that helps with advancing a solution.

I am not frustrated by this problem when I consider what Mr. Ohno and Dr. Deming, among others, went through to develop the Toyota Production System. Each encountered heavy resistance, and soldiered on.

More as I think about potential experiments based on addressing cognitive biases.

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