Resistance to change during a lean transformation is inevitable. Let’s not be surprised when it surfaces. It’s part of the process. There are several root causes, including a lack of understanding, various fears that stifle action and the fact that our brains are hardwired to resist change.
No single countermeasure addresses all the root causes of resistance. However, I subscribe to a people principle of change that goes a long way in engaging the hearts and minds of team members: People don’t usually resist what they helped to create.
Let’s look at five points that are integral to this principle.
Key Point #1 - Ownership instills commitment and is a catalyst for action as it melts down resistance.
If we’re one of the creators, not only will we not resist the change, but we’ll do whatever we possibly can to make the change successful. Also, we’ll be inclined to continuously improve the processes that go into it. Why? Because we have gained a sense of ownership. We’re emotionally connected and committed to the change we helped create.
Ownership is the fuel for the type of engagement that we are striving for in a lean organization. It takes us far beyond passive “buy-in” or support.
Of course, there is a time commitment required to involve people in developing changes that affect them, rather than simply rolling out a finished product. However, when compared to the time loss from ongoing struggles resulting from a disengaged and resistant workforce, the time commitment is miniscule. It will be the best investment you’ll ever make since the returns are both short-term, in a better outcome, and long-term, in an engaged employee.
Key Point #2 – Engage people early in the change process, and they are more likely to feel ownership, increasing engagement and reducing resistance.
Too often, approaches to change are focused on convincing others to support our great idea that we want implemented, not to gather input and invite other stakeholders to become co-creators of the change. “You’ll love it! Look at all the benefits of this momentous change I came up with!” You’re basically saying that the problem has been defined and analyzed, root causes investigated, countermeasures evaluated—and now, the only thing left to do is to implement. You’re basically saying, “I’m giving you the opportunity to be involved by implementing my wonderful solution.”
Do others feel engaged and empowered by this? Probably not. You may reduce some resistance and gain compliant support from a few folks, but it’s doubtful that you will see the emotional, ownership-based commitment that drives engagement, results in a better outcome and facilitates continuous improvement.
Key Point #3 – Early involvement also reduces resistance to changing roles and responsibilities.
Resistance surfaces in all phases, but is often greatest in the early stages of a transformation when everyone’s job is being altered to some degree. Involving people in redesigning their new roles can be an effective resistance-reducer. Provide guidance and coaching, but search for ways for the team to make decisions on job changes resulting from the lean transformation.
One small example … if you want to institute leader-standard work with your front-line supervisors, rather than handing them a form that you created, challenge them to create their own form. Provide your favorite standard work form as an example. This is one of numerous small-scale opportunities to reduce resistance by giving people some autonomy at a time when anxiety is highest due to changing roles. The collective impact is anything but small!
Key Point #4 - Look for both formal and informal methods to invite people to be co-designers of change to reduce resistance.
Engaging people early in change can be done both formally and informally, from gathering ideas from designated teams to impromptu chats to gain input.
Pre-project discussions can reduce anxiety and resistance by eliminating the shock of change. By the time the project officially launches, the workforce not only knows about the impending change, but has had a chance to provide input and express concerns.
Key Point #5 - “Respect for People” and humility are required.
If an environment of “Respect for People” is not in place, you have no chance for success. We may call it resistance, but many people aren’t even listening to you when respect is lacking. In a sense, they haven’t even gotten to the point where they’ve heard something to resist. They are simply immediately rejecting whatever you are spewing.
The level of employee engagement I propose is not a version of “design by committee” nor an attempt to appease everyone. Rather, it is giving employees a voice in changes affecting them. They deserve this respect. It is their right!
Humility is also essential. I consider “Lead with Humility” a sub-principle of “Respect for People.” Humility opens your mind to the contributions and creativity of others, enabling you to invite them into the change-design process with you. Without genuine humility, any engagement attempts will be viewed as manipulative and rejected. Respect and humility are “must-haves,” not “optionals” for reducing resistance.
There is not a single countermeasure or technique that can individually address the various root causes of resistance to change.
However, for most of us, if we can somehow contribute to the development of a change, we’re less likely to resist it. In fact, we’ll likely own it, be committed to it, want to learn more, make sure it is successful and experiment to continually make it better and better forever. Isn’t that what we want in a lean culture of continuous improvement?
Interested in hearing more from Dave Rizzardo? Join us for a IndustryWeek Intelligence webinar on Aug. 17, 2023, at 2 p.m. Eastern. "Respect for People—The Fundamental Lean Manufacturing Principle for Improving Operations," will explain how working with your employees isn't some feel-good corporate-speak buzz phrase, it's the critical piece to making transformative change in operations.
Dave Rizzardo is the associate director of the Maryland World Class Consortia. His lean experience predates the time when lean became synonymous with business excellence. Dave co-developed the Lean Peer Group service, which helps organizations develop a lean culture. He currently facilitates multiple groups and works directly with organizations in helping them on their lean journeys. His book, Lean - Let's Get It Right! How to Build a Culture of Continuous Improvement, addresses the root causes of why many lean transformations fail to meet expectations, and he provides the information needed to turn things around.
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