Sep 18, 2013

Seven psychological principles of change: Principle Four

We have looked at and tried to define culture and discuss some principles (Principles One and Two, Principle Three) for successfully introducing new technology -- which, to my mind, includes lean. Here is the fourth of seven principles for making change less painful:

4. No sweeping changes. Experts must be on guard against attempting to introduce a large-scale blueprint for changing the system as a whole, according to the conclusions of the anthropologists in the project. And because we know that all aspects of the system are interrelated, it seems logical to make detailed maps for sweeping change, like the one below, but that thinking contains several fallacies.

Wikimedia Commons image containing materials
from the United States Geological Survey

Will this sweeping change be achieved as planned?
Although in many cases we can predict a general range of reactions, we can't tell how any single individual will respond to our roadmap, especially when there is a history of failed plans. How many times have employees heard that the company would be going through a transformation, a reorganization to make it more competitive, or build quality into everything they do?

A workplace culture can develop immunity to this kind of pitch. Why should they believe management one more time, after sinking days of work and worry into past initiatives that vanished into the mist, leaving little benefit and a lot of wreckage. Or worse, remembering losing friends or responsibilities in a past workplace "transformation" hurricane.

That's happened so often, it’s little wonder that our effort to bring lean into the workplace in a big way rekindles fear and anger. And in a company where change has never been attempted, the unknown feels scary to many people. A sweeping new training system, factory layout, or evaluation process, is not going to get a good reception, no matter how persuasive or glittering our arguments and powerpoint presentations are.

What else is wrong with a big plan, especially when it’s true that all our changes will eventually have to fit together into a whole? As Mike Rother and his Toyota Kata team is exploring, we can’t predict the future exactly. The journey we envision may actually require detours, backtracking, and rethinking. Although it will be shared with management and some colleagues, telling large groups people about the details of our roadmap will set us up for failures. When we take one step into uncertainty, we may see that the landscape is different from what we expected. The new perspective may require the next step to be in a different direction than imagined.

While the big change may appear threatening, employees usually have a lot of small everyday struggles with obstacles and conditions that make it hard to do their jobs well. If they participate and get support in solving one problem, it speaks louder than a promise to fix everything.
Image source: Toyota Kata website

This is why a small-scale pilot project is often a more successful foot in the door for achieving bigger change. The experts can say, “Let’s try this, and if it doesn’t work, try something else or go back to the old way,” and lower the anxiety level considerably. Seeing a small group in a work cell using lean ideas to reconfigure their processes and taking satisfaction in accomplishing the change themselves as much as possible, often causes a small delegation from others who ask to do the same thing.

The beauty of continuous improvement is that small changes are easier to accept, especially if the people within the system are involved in making them. And through the experimentation process, as small problems are solved, we will learn more about the best path to a transformation -- and we might be surprised where it goes.

Copyright @ 2005-2014 by Karen Wilhelm