So you’ve made the decision to implement lean processes, you’ve hired a consultant you trust, and you can’t wait to get started. I always love to see that, but I also know that your excitement alone isn’t enough. Change doesn’t happen just because you really, really want it to. You have to champion it, and you have to do it every day, not just when your consultants are in town. Otherwise, your lean transformation will either die a slow death by neglect, or it will get squashed by people who have a vested interest – emotional or otherwise – in keeping things the same. You can’t just stand on the sideline and be a cheerleader, either. There are specific things you and your leadership team can do – that you must do – for this process to succeed. Here are a few pointers from my clients who have done it right:
Don’t be secretive.
If you wanted to guarantee strong employee resistance, you’d have a hard time finding a better way than by being secretive about bringing consultants in. Employees see strangers in the hallway, closed conference room doors, and leaders huddling in the corners – and they know something’s up. And, because you were clearly (from their perspective) being sneaky about it, it must be really, really bad. That creates stress and resistance that are completely unnecessary. I know some CEOs don’t like to say anything until they have all of the answers, but people will fill the vacuum in on their own – and you probably won’t like what their worried imaginations come up with.
If you really want to implement change, you have to be transparent about it. You have to lay the groundwork by talking about your plans before the consultants ever show up for that first work session.
Make a (positive) case.
Employees tend to see consultants as, if not quite a slap in the face, at least a criticism of their work. They’re going to feel threatened and defensive – another way to guarantee resistance. If you want to get your workforce on your side – and, believe me, you do – how you make your case is critical. The message you want to convey is that the company has an extremely talented and valuable workforce, that it’s their contributions that have led to the company’s current success, and that you’re confident the business has an equally bright future. You just need somebody who’s not right there in the thick of things to help you spot opportunities. You need a fresh perspective. One tactic I’ve used successfully is to compare the business to a professional athlete: Even Tiger Woods has a swing coach. It’s not about fixing what they’re doing wrong; it’s about pushing the boundaries of what’s possible.
Do your homework.
If you want to make your consultant wish you were serving caffeine-free coffee, don’t do anything between visits. While we’re there, we’re out on the floor, working side-by-side with you to implement our strategies. But there’s always more to do. Besides, you’re still learning. We need to see how you do on your own, so that we can give you guidance and feedback on our next visit. This is one of the biggest mistakes I see companies make. They think change is something the consultants can do to them – that all they need to do is let them in and give them access to the tools they need. That’s never going to work. My team and I don’t just fix our clients’ problems and go home. We train our clients on how to think differently. Otherwise, you’ll be calling us back the first time you run into a problem, and that’s just not how I do business. When things go wrong, I want you to be able to use the methodology I’ve taught you to figure it out for yourself. And that will never happen if the only time you think about it is when we’re sitting across the conference room table from you.
Don’t assume your leadership team is immune to resistance.
Change is hard and uncomfortable, so don’t assume that somebody is going to be on board just because they have a big corner office. I’ve seen so many companies focus on frontline workers, when the real resistance is right there on their own leadership team. It’s well worth sitting down with them and talking through their objections. In fact, it’s essential.
Don’t try to use change to fix other problems.
Just as having kids is no way to shore up a marriage that’s struggling, implementing fundamental change isn’t going fix other problems in your organization; it’s going to make them worse. Whether it’s a lack of trust between management and employees, a lack of vision, a labor dispute, or anything else, you have to fix that first.
Be a champion.
You have to champion the change you want to implement, and you have to do it every single day. Again, change is hard. If you seem the least bit ambivalent, you give people an excuse for thinking that, if they can just stall long enough, it’ll go away. The best way to prevent that is to start by attending a Kaizen event with LSI and one of our clients. You’ll get to take part in a workshop where our client’s employees are actively redesigning a process. That first-hand experience goes a long way when you start championing lean for your own company.
And when I say you have to be the champion, I don’t mean sending out a company-wide email. I mean face-to-face, on-the-floor advocacy. If you can pull it off, visit every site where lean processes will be implemented. Shake people’s hands, listen to their concerns, and tell them why you believe so strongly that lean is the right way to go. If you can’t physically visit every site, video conferencing can be a good alternative. But you have to be the face of the change, and your passion and enthusiasm have to be contagious.
No matter how passionate and persuasive you are, however, the change is going to fail if your infrastructure still supports and rewards the old way of doing things. You can speak to every single employee one-on-one to make the case for going lean, but if your performance review system is still based on the old model, that’s what people are going to pay attention to. From hiring to promotions to performance reviews and departmental structure, it’s absolutely essential that you roll out infrastructure that says, “This is now who we are.”
I wish I had a magic wand, but I don’t. And neither does any other consultant. So, before you start your lean journey, stack the odds in your favor by carefully planning and implementing your rollout. If you do, the results can be amazing.