As discussed in last week’s blog, instituting Lean practices in your company comes with it’s challenges. One of the most complicated challenges, however, is people. How do you get people excited and willing to participate in changes at work? Think about this past year. How did people react to the many policy changes due to Covid? On a scale from enthusiastic participation and advocacy, to outright refusal and vocal condemnation, where were they? Are there some things you wish you did differently? Here are some of our best tips to make change at work a positive experience.
One of the biggest reasons employees will resist change is because no one told them why they’re even doing it! Without knowing the “end” to justify “the means,” people are disconnected from the purpose of their task. They’re more likely to revert to what makes sense to them, without realizing how it affects other departments, or the company as a whole. So make sure you clearly lay out the reason for the change. Risk over-explaining the big and small reasons, and don’t assume that everyone knows how it all works. Using some Lean terminology here can be helpful by describing your “current condition” and describing your “target condition.” Lasty, be excited! Present the change with enthusiasm so that others can see this is truly a good change. Balance your enthusiasm with acknowledgement of people’s anxieties and assure them that you have their back.
Set your employees up for success, and calm anxieties by making the change as easy as possible. Assign tasks that fit your employees strengths, perhaps even collaborating with them on what their duties will entail. This will help them feel a little more in control of the situation. Make sure they are absolutely clear on what their expectations are, how they will be held accountable, and who they can go to with questions or concerns. Reduce fear of failure by rewarding brave behavior, not just successful behavior. Let everyone know it’s okay to not get it completely perfect on the first try. Growing pains are simply part of the process! As long as they are putting the effort in and trying to reach their goal, they should be encouraged.
Whenever you make a change, you’re conducting an experiment. Your hypothesis is that the change will improve some aspect of your company’s function. So just like with any scientific experiment, you can’t begin, assume it worked, and never check on it again. It’s important to stay connected to all those involved in the change. Make yourself visible, have an open door policy, and physically go to the area where the change is taking place (In Lean, this is called going to the gemba). Talk with your supervisors to get their first-hand knowledge of how their departments are handling the change.
Be prepared for this new change to not work out the way you wanted it to. Sometimes our hypothesis is wrong, and we need to consider other options. This does not mean the experiment failed - you have lots of useful information now! Take note of what worked and what didn’t, and work with affected employees on a better solution. Trying to force an unhelpful change won’t help anyone.
Sometimes people are determined to dig their heels in and stay put. It’s easy to ignore these naysayers and press on, but it may come back to haunt you later. Instead, face the doubt head on. Listen to their concerns and offer your full explanations again. Change can truly be anxiety-inducing and there’s a perceived safety in staying put. Have them honestly answer “what’s the worst that could happen?” and “what would happen if we didn’t make this change?”. This gets their fears out in the open where you can discuss them and put them at ease. Sometimes people just want to know that they were heard. If they’re still not convinced, tell them to just give it a try and provide them a clear path for criticism; either yourself or a supervisor. This helps prevent them from complaining aimlessly and spreading negativity among the workforce.
Implementing Lean practices - or any change for that matter - is a task filled with obstacles. By giving proper attention to the human element of change, you are creating a space in which everyone is better equipped for the road ahead. Take these leadership tips and get people on board!
By Aubrey Dion
Aubrey Dion is proud to be back working for the family business she grew up in. Over the years, she has performed a wide variety of jobs in both the office and factory, becoming a true "jack of all trades." Aubrey credits her quick learning ability to her strong theatre background, where memorization and attention to detail are vital. Working in the marketing department allows her to stay creative and work on exciting new projects for the company.