How To Make a Change Management Effort Like Lean Stick

Change is inevitable – except from a vending machine.

-Robert C. Gallagher

If you are involved in any kind of change management effort that is large typically it takes about 2-5 years to make the change sustainable(The Banks Report December 2005). A Lean implementation is no different and in this blog post I want to talk about the initial conditions you need to make a Lean (or any other change effort) sustainable in the long run. Before we get into how to change a culture let’s look at all the factors that influence culture:

Mission/Vision of the company – ex. Nike’s mission; “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.”
Process controls – ex. role cultures have many rulebooks and power cultures relay on individuals to get things done.
Org. Structure – ex. decision flow, hierarchies, etc.
Power Structures – ex. where are decisions being made, are they made by groups or individuals, how concentrated is the decision making?
Symbols – ex. employee of the month pictures/parking, logos, designs, offices vs. cubicles, etc.
Rituals and Routines – ex. meeting schedule and how each meeting is run, reports that are more habitual instead of useful, etc.
Stories and Myths – ex. building up people and events to get a message across, GE’s story of how Thomas Edison invented the light bulb.
(source: Johnson, Gerry (1988) “Rethinking Incrementalism”, Strategic Management Journal Vol 9 pp75-91)

A good change management program will tackle most if not all of the elements. In a Lean transformation you will typically change process controls, org. structure, power structures, symbols, rituals and routines, indirectly change the stories and myths and possibly the mission/vision statement. So why isn’t every change management program successful? There has to be a driving force moving people out of their comfort zones. These forces can be either internal or external but it needs to be significant enough to drive people to change.

In designing systems Lean designs include pull systems. A pull system is designed so a product/customer doesn’t move to the next step until the next step is ready and “pulls” the product/customer into the step. Please seen this wikipedia article for more information. The main question becomes how do you generate pull for a change effort. When ever we do change efforts we look at these factors:

1) Sponsorship support – What level is the sponsor that supports the change, are they the CEO or owner?
2) Support structure – Are there others who want the change?
3) Current situation – What are the current conditions like morale, productivity, turn over, etc? Is there opportunity to get a quick win in any area that is measurable
4) Resources – Does the company have the right people or do they have plans to either train, hire, or bring in consultants to help? Do they have time and money dedicated to the change?

If these 4 factors are in place then we move forward with the change effort. If they are not then we address them first before moving forward if we even move forward. Usually training is a good alternative to a change management program if you don’t have the above 4 factors.

Ok now we’re ready to start a change management effort like Lean, how do we start. Here is the traditional approach:
0) Training (ongoing)
1) Start in a place where there is a need
2) Build out an area to experiment and grow momentum
3) Expand by creating tension to constantly move people out of their comfort zones
4) Integrate what you are doing in strategy

There are many steps in between and it’s not always this linear but it’s like a pyramid where you start at the tip (small) and expand out. This process can be a lot of pushing to get changes made. If you want to generate pull start with upending the pyramid and start will the whole system. I want to introduce to you a new tool that is being taught at Toyota university and that’s Appreciative Inquiry. Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is different from a traditional approach:

Traditional approach:
1) Felt need/identification of problem
2) Analysis of Causes
3) analysis of Possible Solutions
4) Action Planning

Appreciative Inquiry Approach:
1) Appreciating & Valuing the Best of What Is
2) Envisioning What Might Be
3) Dialoging What Should Be

(source: David L Cooperrider;Diana Whitney. Appreciative Inquiry: A Positive Revolution in Change (p. 13). Kindle Edition.)

How does an appreciative inquiry approach get people excited about change? That is where the AI process is different from the traditional approach. AI focuses on strengths and and the foundation is in positive psychology. Positive psychology is not about being a cheerleader 100% of the time but it’s about finding what’s good, how to be resistant, and being aware of what could go wrong the negatives of a situation. What happens with appreciative inquiry is that we ask people what is right with the system and how do we do more of what is right. By appealing to people’s positive emotions we have seen high levels of engagement with staff members and better sustainability with efforts. Below is an example of how appreciative inquiry can lead to results:

Roadway began holding Al Summits throughout its North American operations, realizing that to thrive in an industry in which net profit margins are less than 5 percent in a profitable year, each of its twenty-eight thousand employees must assume leadership responsibility. The results have been impressive. When the work began, Roadway stock was around $ I4 per share. In two years the stock rose to more than $40 per share, before any merger discussions with Yellow, whose stock was a much lower $24 per share. Following the merger in 2003, the combined company was valued at around $42 per share because of the strength of Roadway’s improvements. But beyond stock prices, many other measures have steadily improved at statistically significant levels, including operating ratios (the lowest in years) and well-documented overtime changes in survey data looking at measures of morale, levels of trust, clarity in focus and priority vision, commitment levels, and confidence in a new and better future. Many of the changes occurred during an economic downturn in the industry and have been traced to the power and effect of the new culture of engagement fostered by more than twenty large-scale Appreciative Inquiry Al Summits. Jim Staley, Roadway’s CEO, says he’s seen tremendous employee involvement in task teams at terminals that have held Al Summits, and each team has produced results. “The Appreciative Inquiry approach unleashes tremendous power, tremendous enthusiasm, and gets people fully engaged in the right way in what we’re trying to accomplish,” Mr. Staley says. “It’s not that we don’t deal with the negative anymore,” he explains. “But the value of Al is that, in anything we do, there’s a positive foundation of strength to build on in addressing those problems.

(source:David L Cooperrider;Diana Whitney. Appreciative Inquiry: A Positive Revolution in Change (pp. 40-41). Kindle Edition.)

You might be asking yourself how do you integrate this approach with Lean? One way The Lean Way has found works well is to start your lean efforts with training everyone so they have a general knowledge of lean and how to think lean then start the whole system design approach of appreciative inquiry. This is an oversimplification of the process and each organization is unique so for specific questions please send questions to us from the contact page.

We have started the effort in a hospital system in Cleveland and we decided to tackle group performance. We wanted to make a better working environment for the PMO group so we decided to take the appreciative inquiry approach. During the process the team had comments like “This process gave me hope that things can be better” and “Wow this is great and I never thought of it this way.” With the results that came from the effort the team decided to redesign the team building events for the upcoming year to foster a better working environment.


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