Mar 19, 2014

When management doesn't get it

Our last post identified a divide in a corporate culture between management and operational subcultures. I think that the failure to understand the importance of cultural differences is one of the reasons why lean initiatives fail. When lean champions come from operations and engineering, they have different criteria for success than executives do.

We have also talked about seven principles of change* identified by anthropologists that help explain cross-cultural change.

1. Consider your own psychology. Do you believe you have the only right way of seeing things? Is your attitude showing that you think management's beliefs are wrong? Or are they doing things right in the context of a different culture?

2. Beliefs direct behavior. In management's world, people need numbers and reports. Revenue, cost, profit, and growth. They feel no need to see your plant, value stream map, or throughput times.

3. Change must be seen from the point of view of those being asked to change. If the numbers look good, not only will they be rewarded financially, they will also bask in approval and admiration. Managers down the line get promoted. If the CEO gets raked over the coals when business is slipping, blame will be passed down to every level of the organization. If you want to change the way management believes things should be done, they can’t be sure what will happen to the numbers. When you start talking about members of management devoting time to learning and coming to the gemba, there’s nothing to motivate them.

4. Make no sweeping changes. Introducing a grand system of change can just be too much. This presents a dilemma for introducing change to top management because we know they need to grasp the nature of lean thinking as a system. That’s why pilot projects are such a good way to start.

5. A significant change produces emotional tension. Are traditional company leaders heartless, unemotional, inconsiderate people? They may have to present themselves that way to gain and maintain status in a by-the-numbers business culture. Any change will produces fears, uncertainty, and threats to self-esteem.

6. Change often produces stress and frustration. If managers secretly worry that they can’t succeed in a lean culture, what will they do? Even if it’s only unconsciously, they may obstruct progress. Behind-the-scenes coaching can help. And develop empathy.

7. Harm to people. Persistent and intense stress threatens physical or emotional health, heightening pressure to prevent change. Some people are more vulnerable than they seem, making it important for lean champions to consider emotions as well as the intellect.

Putting yourself in a manager's shoes is easier if you read management books and magazines, as well observe behavior. You can learn more about your industry. To get management's attention, you also need to understanding the quirks and idiosyncrasies of the management culture in your company. If your changes help managers look good and get beat up less often, they will feel safer and put up less resistance.

But first, show them the money.


*Seven principles of cultural change

Principles one and two
Principle three
Principle four
Principles five, six, and seven

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