You’ve traveled on your lean journey for several months or several years. You’ve launched various initiatives; some have
been wins, some you’d call a draw. Some people embrace process improvement; others bide
their time and wait for it to pass. So go the typical results for manufacturing companies that
dive into continuous improvement.
Another typical result: resistance to change.
How you address the resistance will affect how
quickly you achieve results and how well you
Why Do People Resist Change?
Your lean journey is all about change for the
good. Improvements should lead to better performance for your customers, a safer work environment for your employees, and simpler processes for everyone. Such improvements also
threaten your competition because your company becomes a force to be reckoned with. If
these points are true, why would you and others
at your company possibly resist change?
Imagine you’re a welder or a production manager in your company, and along comes some
sort of change to a familiar process. If you don’t
know why change is happening, then you’ll probably resist it. We do not like surprises.
You need to get in front of the change. Make
the business case to management and explain
why the change is occurring to the people working directly in the affected processes. Do this
and you can head off most of the resistance.
Even after this, you’ll probably find people
who feel really comfortable with the current
state and see no need to change. Any change
is simply going to upset their world, or at least
the workplace where they spend most of their
day. We all get comfortable. It takes some effort to break through the comfort zone and help
people understand why the change is good for
them, beneficial to the customer, and necessary
to stay competitive.
Employees might remember past changes as
being disruptive, negative experiences. Perhaps
they thought the changes were heavy-handed.
Maybe something was promised that did not
Overcome the Resistance
come true, or they simply had the impression
that the change happened “to them” instead
of “with them.” Their views might or might not
be valid, but the effects of those past changes
linger all the same. When you view things from
their perspective, you can see where the resis-
tance comes from.
Sources of resistance usually are within your
control. You can anticipate them, minimize their
impact, and take tangible actions. All this incorporates some fundamental aspects of change
management. Ignore change management and
you run the risk of negative reaction, pushback,
and ongoing problems that really do not need
Change management addresses the soft side
of process improvement. Are people genuinely
involved in change? Do you listen to their ideas,
particularly when it directly affects their workspace? Do you anticipate how people might
react to new ideas and processes? Put another
way, have you walked in their shoes? Change
management provides the structure needed to
answer these and similar questions.
Anticipating resistance is much more effective than reacting to it. The former allows you to
avoid disruption rather than having to clean up
after the resistance has occurred.
How can you anticipate resistance? Failure
mode effects analysis (FMEA) is one approach.
FMEA results in a quantified assessment of potential reactions and their relative priorities
such that there is logic about what you work on
first to address resistance.
That’s a complex approach. A simpler one is
to role-play the change and respond to several
different expected reactions. You can even role-play with those who will be directly impacted by
The simplest overall approach is to involve
people in the change. Do it with them, not to
them. With such involvement comes deeper
understanding, better buy-in, and genuine advocates for the change to be successful and sustainable. Regardless of your level or job in the
manufacturing organization, wouldn’t you prefer
to be involved in a meaningful and fulfilling way?
Examples of Resistance
Think of specific situations where people resisted change—be it in the shop, the office, even
with customers or suppliers—and it will bring to
life the importance of addressing that resistance.
When practicing lean concepts, you’ll undoubtedly begin to pay attention to performance
metrics. These shed light on the process. Once
root cause analysis and problem-solving have
been done with participation and input from the
employees involved, improvement can be made.
During all this, you’ll start measuring things.
After all, if you don’t measure something, you
can’t improve it. But be aware of how people
react to being measured. If they feel you are
measuring the “person,” you’ll likely get more
pushback than if they think you’re measuring the
“process.” This might be a subtle point for you,
but it’s a huge point to the person actually doing
the process … particularly if the performance
of that process is poor. Introduce performance
metrics as a way to learn about and improve the
process, not as a way to isolate and pick on employees. This will help get you in front of the resistance before it occurs.
Suppose you’ve made improvements to the
work flow in welding. Previously you ran the initial assembly weld and the final weld operations
in batches. Now you have one-piece flow, or at
least maintain a minimal batch size to account
for cool-down time between operations.
The welders see this as a radical change. They
were comfortable with the old flow and batch
sizes because the work-in-process inventory
tended to make each welding cell an independent station where they could work at their own
pace. The new flow links the operations and
makes them more dependent on each other.
Welders also discover that the overall work status is far more visible to supervisors and peers.
From a manager’s perspective, this allows people
to catch hang-ups before they snowball into larger problems. The welders see things differently,
and it goes back to that feeling of independence.
Previously welders came to work, looked at the
schedule, and decided what to work on next. It
was as if their welding cells were their own “weld
shops.” They chose the sequence of jobs and
Read more from Jeff Sipes at
Get in front of the resistance
Sustain improvement by anticipating
people’s resistance to change
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