Getting People to See Opportunities For Improvement Part I


Listen to the Conference Call on this Topic 


You’re running your company/department/team and you realize that things could be better.  You’ve read an article or taken a short class on Lean, Six Sigma, Emotional Intelligence, or some other method to improve your performance and you want your team to see all the possibilities that you see.  You want them to run with all these great cost saving and revenue generating ideas and you get excited at the possibilities.  There is just one challenge and that is your team doesn’t see what’s possible and isn’t on the same page as you.  So why is it that your team “just doesn’t get it?”  We’ll have you considered that you’re one person an there are many people on the team so they may be thinking the same about you?  It’s like you are arm wrestling with a gorilla who is 800 pounds bigger than you and by the way the gorilla has all the momentum and that creates a large mountain of change that can be difficult to climb.  What most leaders forget is that people are irrational and rational at the same time so you have to appeal to the emotional side of a person as well as the rational side.  There are several factors you need to consider when you want to get buy-in from your team to align with what you are doing.

Build an Emotional Tie and Big Picture

This can be done two main ways. 1) The Burning Platform 2) The Shared Vision.  You are trying to move people out of their comfort zone and into a new level however that doesn’t just happen.  Most people will say build a burning platform and fear people into change.  My personal preference is to create a shared vision with the team on where they want to go.  This is much more inclusive and aspirational and tends to be more sustainable than a fear based tactic.  Techniques like Appreciative Inquiry are great ways to build a shared vision.     

Why/What/How Is It Important

Now that you’ve developed an emotional pull towards a direction, start to appeal to the rational side of people and explain to them why you as a leader want the team to change what they are doing to a new way.  People are naturally curious about what might be coming up and chances are you will get a wide range of emotions from “will I lose my job” to “I can’t believe we’ve waited this long to change something.”  This step goes hand and hand with building the emotional tie and the big picture.    For example if you wanted to do start Lean you explain to the team how you want to go about trying it.  Most importantly make sure you tie it into your big picture from above.  For some that will be tying it into the burning platform.  For others it’ll be the shared vision.  

Awareness/Training and Seeing and Doing Things Differently

One of the first steps you’ll want to take in applying your improvements is to make people aware of what you are trying to do by getting to them have their own AH HA! moment similar to what you experienced.  This can be done several ways including formal training, daily informal training, or with project work.  I would recommend using a blended approach and trying all three. Having the awareness is one thing but taking the awareness and applying it by seeing the same company differently is a different story.

 optical illusion

When you look at an optical illusion people usually only see one of the two items in the illusion.  Take the example above, do you see the young women looking away or do you see the face of an old woman in profile?  If you have ever been frustrated at not these types of illusions then you can empathize with some of your employees who may not see the benefit of trying something new.  When I go into a manufacturer and start to do a waste analysis on a process we usually find that around 99%+ is waste in the process.  Of course everyone is in a bit of shock because they would have never thought it would be so high.  With Lean the framing of a situation is done by asking what is valuable here.  With Six Sigma the framing is what needs to be the output and where are the possible defects that can occur to prevent the needed outcome.  If your employees have never framed a situation with a Lean or Six Sigma frame then there will naturally be emotions of doubt and skepticism.  During this step there needs to be that understanding and patients with people while they learn and are giving opportunities to learn.  This is also the critical part in the process where if someone gets stuck it’s usually in this position of going from awareness to implementing.


The step from awareness to application and seeing new possibilities is the critical step that can have many blockages for people.  These blockages include personal defenses, lack of trust, lack of social capital to help change the current culture, and lack of alignment.  We’ll explore these blockages more in part II.

Summary of Part I

When getting your employees to see opportunity start with these steps:

  1.  Big picture and Emotional Tie
  2. Explain what it is you are trying to do and the why should tie back into the big picture and emotional tie
  3. Awareness/Training and Framing – Learning to see and do things differently
  4. The place most people have trouble with are blockages that prevent your team to move from awareness to seeing and doing things differently
  5. There are several types of blockages and we’ll explore all of those in part II