We’ve heard many times that people don’t want to change. That may or may not be true. Indeed, Beta has found that people do want to change, if (1) they’re given compelling reasons for change, e.g., building a future for themselves and the company, or avoiding bankruptcy, (2) there’s something in it for them, e.g., a more secure future, less stress and hassle, less personal risk, better pay or rewards, and (3) they participate in creating the changes, e.g., setting up structured improvement time and training, applying the appropriate tools for their needs, removing the obstacles from their success, routinely soliciting their ideas for improvement, and showing gratitude and appreciation for their contribution.
As Margaret Wheatley said, “People own what they create.” Once a compelling reason has been established, facilitating employee participation in defining the specifics of the changes provides them with a sense of ownership and control in the change process. Having a bit of ownership and control is a lot less stressful too! Sustaining that sense of ownership takes time. Winston Ledet’s experience has been that every employee must participate in at least one improvement effort, at least once per year, for at least three years to assure large-scale, lasting, cultural change. The logistics of actually doing this can be daunting. Deming said cultural change takes seven years and requires constancy of purpose. Jim Collins said ten to fifteen. The point is that lasting change takes years, and in fact, we must constantly improve just to remain competitive.
Thus, a process is needed by which the ownership of change is facilitated at the shop floor level. This process must include sufficient funding, time, training, and in some cases a facilitating organization that can be internal, external, or both. Beta has often used external resources to initially facilitate organizational change. As Deming said, “Profound knowledge comes from the outside and by invitation. A system cannot know itself.” However, it’s important that these external resources not be introduced with banners and fanfare. Doing that suggests it’s just another passing fad. The shop floor then acts much like a rock at the seashore: They see the “next wave” coming and just sit tight. This too will pass. The change process must have, as Deming also said, constancy of purpose, and introducing any new tools needs to be done with clear communication about how it supports the company’s overall strategy.
Some might argue that some of the tools are strategies themselves, and they can be, depending on the level in the organization at which they are applied. To determine which is which, first articulate the business strategy and then incorporate the tools that best support the strategy. Otherwise, the tool may drive the strategy instead of the strategy driving the tool.
It’s important to celebrate and build upon the early successes in a low key way, to learn from the early failures (the best learning often comes from failure), and to continue to foster and reward a continuous improvement environment. But, the concept of “low-hanging fruit” is more often than not largely a myth, since the improvement targets are constantly moving. The low-hanging fruit picked today may end up being replaced by other fruit tomorrow, so a process for continuous improvement is essential, always looking for the next opportunity. As in athletics, you have to work really hard just to keep what you have. You have to work even harder to improve.