If you have a position that involves leading change, then at some point you’ve had to deal with opposition. This is very true for those of us who have taken a leadership role in leading Lean, since that is usually all about changing how companies operate. The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus said “The Only Thing That Is Constant Is Change”. Now that was way back 535 years B.C., so the world and its population have had lots of time to get used to the idea, and yet we STILL struggle with its implementation. Why?
In my experience, it usually comes down to one of 3 things:
1. The dissenter is afraid;
2. The dissenter needs to verify his/her worth;
3. The dissenter is a victim.
We’ve all encountered these folks. Each one, however, requires a different approach in order to implement change successfully. Below are the techniques I’ve developed over the years to deal with each style so that the organization can move forward.
1. If a dissenter is afraid of change, it’s usually because he or she is afraid of the impending outcome. At a large aerospace manufacturer here in CT, we were putting in a new piece of equipment that would drop our cycle times by up to 90%. This new equipment would be doing the job of two employees, both of whom had done the same job (hand deburring) for more than 40 years each. Both women had had multiple surgeries on both wrists, so to us, this was a Lean home run. Faster, safer, cheaper… what wasn’t to love? We thought the women would be excited not to have to sit all day and deburr parts anymore. Boy, were we wrong. As soon as the news hit the floor, these two women got upset. They even turned on each other, each saying how it would be the other to lose her job because the machine would replace her. We assured them that no one would be losing their job because of this machine, but rather that their work content would just change a little. This helped a bit, but the apprehension was palpable. Only after the machine was installed, the employees trained and standard work put in pace did they settle into the new routine and feel at ease.
When dealing with folks who are afraid of change it’s important to explain, up front, what the goals are and how they will be achieved. People like information, even if they don’t get to make decisions based upon it. It helps them understand what’s expected of them, and also what they can expect once the change is in place. Without this, they are flying blind, and that’s very uncomfortable for many.
2. A dissenter who needs to verify his/her worth is driven by pride. These folks are usually the 20+ year employees who’ve “been there, done that”. They’ve seen TQM come and go, MBA’s come and go, and have developed a “this too shall pass” mentality. To them, everything is a management fad that is bound to fail. Many times, managers and change agents write these folks off, which only reinforces that person’s position. Without these folks’ buy-in, your change will likely fail. At best you can hope for compliance, but that rarely comes and never without a hidden cost. Instead, I engage these people earn and often. Many times, I find that no one has ever stopped and talked with these folks about their job; what they like and don’t like, or gotten to know them. By taking this small step, it shows that you actually care about the employee and their work, which for these folks is the most important thing. Once you’ve earned their trust, they will turn into your biggest advocate to implementing change and make your job a whole lot easier.
3. A victim is someone who believes the universe is against them. Everything is a struggle – the kids, the spouse, the bank, the government, the CEO… you name it, and they can spin you a tale of how they are getting screwed by The Man. I once had an employee who won the Grand Prize (an Ipad) in a company raffle who was this type of person. As he walked back to his spot after receiving it, he said “Well, it’s not an Ipad II.”. These folks will never, I repeat, NEVER, see the vision. Don’t waste your time trying to convince them. The only thing I do with them is explain (once) what’s going to happen and where we are going to go. By doing this, you take away the “I didn’t know” excuse. Beyond that, any non-compliance or non-commitment toward meeting the goal is on them.
Implementing change is hard. People don’t like it, and will often resist. Be “Cheerfully Persistent” in your pursuit. Stay excited and positive. Once folks see that you cannot be disheartened, they’ll abandon the Dissenter Approach and begin to understand, like Heraclitus did, that change is inevitable. From there, employ the guidelines above and implementing change becomes a lot easier.
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