A high tech firm was studying a group of competitors and one of the team members explained that when the firm sent people to visit other companies, each person was given a specific “learning goal.”
In addition to their task at hand, the visitor was expected to learn as much as possible about a particular issue and then share it within the firm. The organization believed their competitiveness could be improved largely based on how effectively they brought knowledge into the company.
Consequently, they invested in gathering, disseminating and using learning as a catalyst to change.
Similarly, we recently saw how powerful knowledge transfer can be when conducting a “Lean Office” training session during which we helped a cross-functional group map their value stream. All the participants had thorough knowledge of their own piece of the process, but no one really knew much about the processes of their internal customers and suppliers.
Value Stream Mapping is inherently a ‘knowledge sharing’ or learning process, so there were plenty of Eureka’s! When individuals learned how their work fit into (and often slowed or hindered) the work of other parts of the value stream, they were able to identify ways to shrink the time required to deliver their service by well over half.
To quote the innovator, Doug Hall, we must ‘feed the brain’! In order to develop new insights, newsolutions, new opportunities for competitive advantage, we must actively mine for knowledge that can trigger solutions.
All sorts of learning can become a catalyst for change. Learning about the market and the customers can help you see possibilities for innovation that you have overlooked before.
As a follow-up to our previous post, which shared an introduction to this concept, this video shares some new perspectives about the current pace of change within the business world and adapting to the “new normal.”
It also raises more than a few questions about how your organization might best adapt — and how quickly you’ll be able to do it — and provides ideas and examples for doing so.
We all know the pace of change has significantly accelerated over the past ten years and is continuing to do so. This faster pace is often referenced as being exponential!
People most often agree that change is an important and necessary element of success but, truth be told, we don’t really like it. It is far more common to feel that “change is good and I think YOU should.”
Yet the value of change is clear. Consider that 100 years ago the average life expectancy in the United States was 53.1 compared to 78.8 today. Only 35% of households had electricity in 1920, and only 1% had both electricity and running water.
Business examples of what happens without change include Converse in sneakers, Kodak in photography, and Blockbuster in video. Each of these established and successful entities experienced significant declines in market share (or worse!) and profits as competitors introduced new and improved, lower-cost alternatives.
What Could or Should Be? We have defined “waste” as the difference between the way things are now and the way they could or should be if everything were right. While this definition still rings oh-so-true today, what has changed is the expectations many have of what could or should be.
Who, ten years ago, would have thought there could be self-driving cars? Who would have envisioned a supermarket without checkout stations? Who could have imagined a printer that could generate 3-D objects? Yet all of these things, and many others of similar proportion, have suddenly become real.
As noted in previous posts, the start of a new year is often a time for making resolutions or strategic improvement plans, which is another way of saying “a time for change.”
As we all know, change is a critical component of growth and ongoing success; and, to be effective, change initiatives must involve not only a change in attitude, but also behavioral change.
But, as we also know, change is not always perceived as being good. In organizations of all types, people tend to look with skepticism at innovations and new methods, processes, policies and procedures; and people at all levels sometimes cringe at the suggestion that there might be a different or better way to do their jobs!
Yet without change comes stagnation and potential loss. Examples include: Converse in sneakers or Kodak in photography, each experiencing significant declines in market share and profits as competitors introduced new and improved, lower-cost alternatives.
Readiness… the Right Attitude The first step in any change effort is to help people develop the right mental attitude and understand that change is a constant part of long-term success. We have found that this “readiness for change” is best brought about through assessment, communication, education, empowerment, measurement, and recognition.
Components of helping people prepare for and embrace change include:
Making continuous improvement a permanent part of your corporate culture so that people at all levels change the way they think, talk, work, and act
Establishing new perspectives on work, work processes and value-added work
Clearly identifying the necessary or desired changes to actions and behaviors
Effectively using statistical tools to identify, analyze, understand and communicate variation and to measure improvement
Enlisting the help of people operating the work processes
Quantifying how continuous improvement benefits all stakeholders
Improving leadership and coaching skills that lead to increased employee engagement
The point has been made, in prior posts, that “change” is not always perceived as being good, and instead tends to promote fear, uncertainty, doubt; and even resentment!
Consider that, in organizations of all types people tend to look with skepticism at new policies and procedures, and look with deep concern at new compensation plans or updated benefits programs. Similarly, in their daily quest for new customers, sales people constantly struggle to overcome buyers’ comfort with the status-quo; and people at all levels regularly cringe at the suggestion that there might be a different or better way to do their jobs!
Yet without change comes stagnation… and potentially worse things too. Current-day examples include Polaroid in instant photography, Blockbuster in video, Xerox in copiers, or the Yellow Pages! Each of these household name enterprises experienced significant declines, or worse, as competitors introduced new and better alternatives.
The cassette tape replaced the eight-track, but was then outdone by the compact disc, which was undercut by MP3 players… and the list can go on.
A Selling Mission… If we’re to learn from these examples, then we must accept the fact that change — either in the form of innovation, continuous improvement or both — is a critical component of growth and ongoing success. Without innovation and change we run the risk of losing our competitive position or potential obsolescence.
“Whatever made you successful in the past won’t in the future,” said the late Hewlett Packard CEO Lew Platt.
But if people tend to resist change as previously noted, how might managers or business owners best go about getting the team to accept it — to buy in? How can we help people more readily embrace improvement programs, try new protocols, accept new pricing models or generally believe in the up-side of change?
Simply stated, we must sell it.
Just like the sales and marketing experts who create the “new and improved” ad copy, slogans and selling presentations, we must sell the concept of change to our staff members before trying to present or roll-out new policies, procedures, campaigns, programs or plans.
And just like any sales mission, this will require forethought and planning.
We might start by identifying how the team will benefit from a proposed change. What’s in it for them? What are the consequences of not changing? What will it cost? What opportunities might we lose?
What’s the competition doing?
The next step is to determine how to properly position a proposed change. Since we know there is a tendency toward defensiveness, it’s important to make people understand that they are not the problem. In other words, a change in policy or approach need not mean that the team has been doing things the wrong way. Rather, it means the world is changing and we must change too, lest we fall behind.
Finally, once the presentation is made and the new whatever is launched, there must be follow-up reinforcement and assessment. Has everything worked as we’d hoped? Should we modify the new plan? Are there unforeseen consequences? While we don’t want to send a message indicating we’re not resolved to the new program or approach, it is also a good idea to let everyone know we’re fair and open-minded — that at the end of the day we’re all on the same side.
Change may be unsettling, but without it our futures are at risk; and there are clearly ways to minimize the negative effects. It will require effort, planning and, like any selling mission, persistence, as behaviors and attitudes are not easily influenced.
Margaret Thatcher may have summed it up best when saying, “You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it!”
Rapid acceleration in the pace of change has taken place within the business world over the past ten years. This fact has also accelerated the need for organizational agility, in both thought and behavior.
Agility and change are inextricably linked. The goal in most change efforts is not only a change in attitude, but behavioral change.
But of course change is not always perceived as being good. In fact, people at all levels tend to react with fear, uncertainty, and doubt (the “FUD” factor) when new ideas, processes, policies or procedures are introduced; and many cringe at the mere suggestion that there might be a different or better way to do their jobs !
Yet without change comes stagnation and potential loss.
The first step in any change effort, and in maintaining organizational agility, is to help people develop the right mental attitude and understand that timely change is a constant part of long-term success — this readiness for change will require:
Making continuous improvement a permanent part of the organization’s culture…
Getting people at all levels to change the way they think, talk, work, and act, and fostering a culture of open-mindedness and amnesty.
Establishing new perspectives on work, work processes and value-added work.
Effectively using various statistical tools to identify, analyze, understand and communicate variation.
Enlisting input from of people operating the work processes.
Quantifying how continuous improvement benefits all stakeholders.
Improving leadership and coaching skills that lead to increased employee capability and engagement.
While identifying the right things to work on is a critical decision we must make each day, it’s important to also have the right people working on the right things if we hope to truly achieve breakthrough solutions. In other words, it is imperative to have a solid grasp of the team’s capabilities, strengths and developmental needs.
We’ve discovered that workforce assessments need to be done in an organized, comprehensive way that includes a strategic mixture of observation, one-on-one and small group interviews to cover a diagonal cross-section of an organization. Key activities include an analysis of layout, work flow, bottlenecks and yield, and also an assessment of people’s understanding of tools as well as how their work impacts the total organization.
It is also important to ask questions about the organization, how people feel they are treated and valued, and, in so doing, it’s important to assess their level of engagement.
Based on discovering the best opportunities for improvement, an improvement plan can then be implemented, which will involve making key changes in processes and behaviors.
Finally, it’s also necessary to review how people are being managed, as without engaged, effective leadership it is difficult to implement the changes that are necessary for achieving a culture of continuous improvement.
In their book Reorg, published by the Harvard Business School Press, authors Stephen Heidari Robinson and Suzanne Heywood write, “A successful reorg can be one of the best ways for companies to unlock latent value, especially in a changing business environment – which is why companies are doing reorgs more often.”
However, they go on to acknowledge that most workplace reorganizations “just don’t work.”
Their findings are consistent with our observations and experience, which indicate barely 20% of reorganization efforts deliver the expected benefits.
But it’s important to recognize that the concept itself may not be at fault, but rather the execution. In fact, too many implementations begin prematurely, thus sealing the fate of those involved.
Here are a few key steps that can help ensure your reorganization effort will be successful:
Start with a comprehensive design that includes the strategic engagement of leaders at all levels, and that takes into consideration the critical processes that create value for customers.
Use flow charts or value-stream mapping to identify critical processes as well as those that are error-prone or that fail to add value so your plan can encompass the redesign of both the processes and the organization.
Select an Implementation Team with overall responsibility for every step, and begin with an “impact assessment.”
Communication must be open and widespread throughout the process so that people at all levels are aware, on-board, and prepared for the upcoming changes. Be sure to include reasons for the reorganization and appropriate information about the implementation plan in this ongoing communication.
Provide training for people in new or redesigned jobs.
Provide coaching to help people at all levels make the transition.
Follow-up, to ensure that any gaps in the implementation plan are closed.
Continuing to analyze the concept that “knowledge” is one of the most powerful change agents, today’s focus is on what is arguably the most important source of that knowledge — your own value stream, which includes your organization’s work as well as the work of others.
What is going on in technology? What methods are others trying out? How is it working for them? How could it work for you?
In most organizations, there is a knowledge barrier that holds the waste in place: the people who know the work best are seldom in a position to know the big picture so when they see waste, they
often assume there must be a reason for it. And if they know of better ways of doing something, they often lack the influence to make any significant changes. Similarly, those with the broader perspective and the influence do not really understand how the work as it is done today well enough to arrive at the ‘Eureka!’ moment.
One of the fundamentals of the Lean approach is that you must “go to the work.” Don’t just talk about the results or listen to people talk about the work — go to the work (a.k.a. Gemba).
Look at the work, and learn from the people who do it every day. Without this knowledge, little can be substantially improved, and effective “change” will be difficult or impossible to implement.
As noted in our previous post, “knowledge” is one of the most powerful change agents, and all sorts of learning can become a catalyst for change.
One very effective source of knowledge is our marketplace, which includes our customers and competitors.
By learning from the market we can often see possibilities for innovation that have been overlooked. Of course learning is only the first step, as the gained knowledge must then be applied.
For example, in the early 1980’s, Toyota believed that to grow their sales in the United States they would need to have manufacturing facilities here, but they concluded they did not have enough knowledge to do so successfully. So they entered into a joint venture with General Motors, opening the NUMMI plant in California to produce both the Chevy Nova and the Toyota Corolla in the United States.
After they achieved their learning goals, Toyota went on to successfully open plants in a number of U.S. locations, applying their knowledge each time. While General Motors had the opportunity to learn the production systems that enabled Toyota to produce very high quality products at low cost, and while many individuals at GM learned a great deal through this venture, GM gained little more from the venture than the cars that came off the assembly line.
Learning from the customer can also open our eyes to new possibilities. But it’s important to recognize that customers may tell you what they want, but not necessarily why.
So making the extra effort to go beyond just “what they need” to gain knowledge is critically-important. Contextual inquiry is a method of learning more about the customer needs than the customer could tell you by watching the customer use the product in context.
What do they really value? How do they use or struggle to use what you give them? What are the things that you could do differently that the customers would not know to ask? And consider that they don’t ask because they don’t know enough about your process
to suggest it, and you don’t know enough about their process to offer it!
Similarly, knowledge of the competition can produce a greater sense of urgency or a heightened “willingness” to change, and in many cases can give us better insights as to the best ways to satisfy our customers and achieve a competitive edge.
Challenges and best practices associated with continuous improvement