It’s said that the challenge of improvement is 10% technical and 90% people-related. And based on the feedback I get from people in the field, this bias toward the soft side might be understated! Although nuts and bolts have to be right for implementing change, a workforce’s buy-in is generally the make-or-break factor in continuous improvement. Implementations can run aground when holdouts stand in the way of change. At times, it can feel like everyone on the job is resisting for all kinds of reasons, such as:
- Comfort Zone – People are in a groove and want to continue in it.
- Discipline – The effort to sustain a change is too great.
- Fear – Change enters unknown turf, and people fear this.
- Company politics – Turf battles block change.
- Apathy – People don’t want to be bothered.
- Lack of Communication – People don’t understand or know how to implement changes.
While all of these explanations are possible, one cause probably overshadows all others: The suggested change may be bad! If the proposal is counterproductive and employees can see this, no amount of communication, motivation or incentivizing will help.
Before dismissing the possibility that your latest initiative may be less than perfect, consider the track record for change. By an overwhelming margin, changes offer no benefit, or they create massive burdens. Sometimes both. Consider:
- Do bills generally increase or decrease with change?
- How often is the new plan better?
- How often does change bring better customer relations, an improved workplace, or increased employee morale?
- How often are beloved products and services discontinued?
The most likely reason that people resist change is its bad track record. If you doubt this, consider the upheaval in store for anyone who wins a million-dollar lottery ticket. Haven’t we all heard about lottery winners who consider it the worst thing that ever happened to them? Yet despite the barriers to buy in, what’s the chance that someone would want a winning ticket? Conservatively, 100%! Even though this option plows uncharted territory for most and will shake a person out of their comfort zone, who wouldn’t jump on this with both hands and feet? Obviously, it’s because this particular change is perceived as beneficial. If a plan offers a credible prospect for low risk, high reward and minimal cost, getting buy-in is not nearly as difficult.
While there are numerous details to get right when improving an operation, ensuring that your change is beneficial is a vital first step. However, getting this initial step right is much more challenging than you might think!
To get to a point where change has any credibility, you need to address why most changes have such a bad reputation:
- Inaccurate and/or incomplete information leads to bad execution.
- Oversights go uncorrected once a project is declared complete.
- People are fallible, and mistakes will be made even with perfect information and intentions.
To elevate what’s normally an unpleasant experience, involving your workforce and taking the following steps will help:
- Properly Define Success – To ensure that employees see benefits from change, be sure that projects are only considered successful once jobs get easier.
- Plan on “Do-Overs” – Communicate that mistakes will be made, are expected, and will be addressed.
- Reassure – If you have the power, make it clear that any changes that employees consider a bust will be dropped.
- Investigate Alternative Continuous Improvement (CI) Techniques – As different people gravitate to different approaches, try finding CI techniques that best fit your workforce.
Written by Dr. Michael Sanders.