How You Change Is the Change!

Dec. 6, 2011
Lean management is not a change methodology. It is a destination, a desired set of practices and culture. How you get there will determine the outcome.

There are far more failures than successes as companies attempt to implement lean manufacturing or lean culture. I believe that most of those failures are the result of the absence of sound change management strategies and skills. How you change creates a set of expectations for what will follow. You create a "pull" for adoption of the change, or you struggle to "push" the string of change up hill.

Most managers and most consultants do not make the distinction between the destination and the method of travel. The destination can be defined as maximizing customer satisfaction, eliminating waste in all its forms, reducing variances or quality problems, speeding cycle times through core processes, and it can be defined as a culture of continuous improvement and empowerment. But knowing the "what" is like looking at a photo of Mr. Universe and saying, "I want to look like that!" That's easy. But, getting there is something else. Most failures are not the result of failing to know what you want to look like. Rather, they are failures in the process of change.

Here are some of the keys to successful lean implementation and culture change from my experience.

1. Ownership is 80% of success.

The first rule of change management is: People will implement and make successful that for which they feel ownership.

Too often, the very people who are required to implement a change in processes or culture have it imposed upon them and do not feel that they had any say in its creation. This will almost guarantee failure. The worst way to go about change is to hire a high- priced consultant and have him or her study, write a report, make a presentation, and leave the implementation to those who struggle with the day-to-day realities of life.

Habitat for Humanity knows something about managing change. Their program of building homes for the disadvantaged is not merely about putting up structures. It is about building human capacity and human dignity. When they build a home for a family they ask the members of that family to contribute "sweat equity", their own labor to the construction of the home. This has the effect of giving the new owners a feeling of pride in "their home" that they helped to build. The probability of the family caring for and maintaining the home goes up in proportion to their sense of ownership.

Most senior managers have insufficient appreciation for the human capacity within their own people. For many years I have been facilitating internal "design teams" comprised of both first-line employees and managers who are assigned the work of redesigning their work processes and their social system or culture. These are the people who have their feet on the ground and have true knowledge of how things work in the organization. They invite in their customers and listen to their concerns. They map out the current state of the work process and identify all the variances that cause waste in the process. And, they analyze the culture, the sources of motivation and decision processes. Then, they design the future state, an "ideal state" that transforms both the work process and culture.

I can honestly say that after doing approximately 100 redesign projects it has never failed that those who design the future will develop a passionate commitment to their own design and will fight for its implementation and success. There is this commitment because it is literally "their own" design. It does not belong to a consultant or to senior management. These folks will make it work! That is 50% of success.

2. Build Competence, Don't be Consultant Dependent.

Gaining ownership leads toward the development of competence in those who will implement the new design. But the building of internal capacity must go beyond that ownership. It must develop the skills of change management and skills and tools of training and developing people to live within a lean organization.

I am not anti-consultant. After all, I are one! However, consultants are very often misused. Consulting firms are all too happy to have you dependent on their consultants, the more the merrier, for a long time. That is, after all, how they make money. But, is that in the best interest of the client?

The longer a client is dependent on a consultant the less likely it is that the consultant is transferring his or her competence to the client organization and building capacity within the client firm. I recently completed an assignment at a Merck manufacturing plant where 71 teams are implementing lean practices in every department and function and at every level of the organization. Everyone is involved. My role was to work with the senior team of the plant and to train and coach 14 internal coaches, both salaried and hourly, who serve as coaches to all of the other teams. Who learns the most in this scheme? Of course, the internal coaches who have to turn around and train all of the other teams. They now have the capacity to carry on the process indefinitely. As a team of coaches they meet and learn from each other. This internal consulting team can now learn virtually any new practice that comes along and serve as vanguard for implementation. They don't need me anymore.

3. You Won't Get It Right the First Time -- Plan for Experimentation and Iteration.

When either Honda or Toyota have designed a new car and is preparing to manufacture that car, and even though they may have the world's best manufacturing engineers, they do not assume it will all go right the first time. An auto assembly plant may produce a thousand cars a day. But, when these companies are beginning production of an entirely new car they close the plant production to zero, install the required new equipment and programs, retrain all the employees on the new car and the new jobs around its production, and then they make ONE car. They watch that car go through the production process. Inevitably, they find things that don't work as planned. They may find machines that need to be re-adjusted or re-programmed. They may find workers who have not been fully trained. They will fix these things and then build another car. It may take months to gradually build up to full production.

Perhaps your managers implementing a major change are smarter than the Honda or Toyota manufacturing engineers, but I doubt it. The idea that we are so smart that we can design something that is complex to work perfectly the first time is pure arrogance, and arrogance is the worst enemy of continuous improvement. It forces managers to try to cover mistakes, inhibits learning and creates waste.

Design the new process and the new human systems as best you can. Then implement those changes with an "attitude of science," a willingness to try things out, then make adjustments and modifications. This attitude will drive out fear, maximize learning and maximize the rate of improvement.

4. Partner with Your Customers.

It is not you against the world unless that is how you choose to write the script. I am currently leading a couple of design teams that are redesigning the core work process of a service organization. They have major problems with unhappy customers. The design team invited in the managers of those customers, the very managers who are unhappy with the service they are receiving, and asked them for help. The design team asked the customers what improvements they would like to see. They asked if they knew of any best practices that they should adopt. And they asked the customer if they would help them in their effort to design the ideal service delivery system. It works every time! I have seen this over and over again. If you ask a customer for help in developing a better way to serve them, they always agree to help! Now you have a partner in your customer.

Every interaction with a customer is a sales call. Every interaction either increases or decreases the probability of future business. Asking the customer to co-create a solution to serve them is one of the best sales calls you will ever make. You have created a new partnership, a new co-owner of the house you are building for them. They will help you make it successful.

5. Invite In the Whole-System -- Embrace the Complexity.

Every organization is a complex system, an ecology, with a variety of sub-systems (people systems, financial systems, information systems) all interacting with one another to determine the course of the whole. Just like our economy, the human body or the culture of a country, the culture and competitiveness of a company is never the result of one system standing on its own. Yet, we hire a consultant to redesign the work flow. Another to implement teams or a motivation system. While another is redesigning the flow of information and another may be redesigning the structure. It is a prescription for the creation of waste. All of these systems must be aligned to the same principles and goals. They are all interacting and interdependent. If you don't approach major change with an appreciation for this interaction and interdependence, you are programming in failure.

Charter a design team to implement lean principles through the whole system, the core work process of the organization, and the enabling or support systems. If the human resource processes are not designed to enable the work of the core work process, you have reduced the chance of success. If you have not designed the IT/IS systems to provide those who do the real work of service to customers with the information they need, you have again reduced the chance of success.

6. Get in the Boat and Row; Stop Standing at the Shore!

Be the change! If you want change in your organization, LEAD! Lead doesn't mean writing encouraging memos. Leading is not simply deciding to go, or approving a budget. Leading is leading, being out front, doing what you want others to do. Be the model!

Twenty years ago Nevius Curtis was the chairman of Delmarva Power and Light. He wanted to transform his organization into a fully empowered, high performance organization. In my first meeting with him I told him that if he really wanted to succeed, he needed to make his team "Team No. 1." He needed to have his team go through the same training, do the same things he desired of every other team in the organization. He signed up and he signed up his team. In a few years Delmarva became recognized as a model for quality management and empowerment. That effort has sustained to this day. It worked because the leader provided true leadership. He didn't stand on the shore and yell "Row" or criticize the efforts of others. He provided a model.

If you want to create genuine and lasting change you will get in the boat and pull on the oars, and you will soon find that you have an army of rowers all pulling behind you, and in the same direction!

Lawrence M. Miller has been doing organizational change consulting for 35 years, beginning with his work creating a free economy in prisons. He has worked with Honda, Shell Oil, and dozens of other corporations. He is the author of nine books, most recently "Lean Culture -- The Leader's Guide." His website and blog is

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