In the past week I have received several emails from readers of this blog asking me why it is so difficult to make lasting changes, so I thought in this posting I would address this concern. It’s pretty clear that improvement requires that something change, but that not every change results in an improvement. One thing is for certain though, if we don’t change, then our competition will surpass us. Most companies have concluded then that change is absolutely necessary in today’s competitive world. As I’ve written about in several other postings, there are three basic questions that must be answered:
1. What should I change?
2. What should I change to?
3. How do I cause the change to happen?
For those who are regular readers of this blog, I have written about the Theory of Constraints Thinking Processes (TP’s). And although this will not be the subject of this posting, they are worth mentioning. The TP’s are used to first, identify all of the negative symptoms or undesirable effects (UDE’s) that exist within any organization and then link them through cause and effect logic until the one or two core problems are identified and surfaced. In doing so, we can then devise solutions to these one or two problems and in so doing, most, if not all, of the negative symptoms we see will disappear. That’s how it’s supposed to work in theory. And while I’ve been quite successful in using the TP’s over the years, overcoming resistance to change is where many improvement initiatives fail.
In the Theory of Constraints body of knowledge, there are a series of questions that must be answered that are based upon the psychology of change. These questions, or variations of them, are what people intuitively ask when a change is proposed to them. Being able to overcome the natural resistance to change is paramount to a successful improvement initiative. Those questions, or variations of them, are as follows:
1. Have we really identified the right problem to be addressed? How do we know we have identified the right problem?
2. Ok, we have identified the right problem, but what about the solution?
3. Do I think that the basic direction of the proposed solution is correct?
4. Do I believe that this solution will work and, by the way, what’s in it for me?
5. What if something goes wrong with the solution and creates new problems for me? Have we thought through the potential impact of this solution and possible negative side-effects?
6. Can our organization really implement this solution effectively and will it truly deliver something we view as being positive for us?
7. Will leadership support and commit to this change? Without the support and commitment of our leaders, it simply will not work!
Unless we address and answer these questions effectively and consider input from both the people being asked to implement the change and the people who will be impacted by the change, we won’t have the necessary buy-in and the change will probably fail. I’m not talking about leadership buy-in here, but rather the subject matter experts….the people who produce the products or deliver the service for our company. In other words, the entire work force must be committed to its success and support the impending change.
One thing that has been successful for me is something I have written about before referred to as active listening. Active listening is a simple concept whereby we assemble a group of subject matter experts (SME’s), explain the problem to be solved and then solicit improvement ideas from them. The SME’s, the people doing the work, have a much better understanding of what’s truly happening in their current reality, so by giving them a chance to solve the problem, using their ideas, automatically creates the necessary buy-in to commit to and support the solution to the problem. Where this sometimes falls short is the reluctance of senior leadership to accept and implement the SME’s improvement ideas. My belief is that as long as their ideas don’t violate safety rules or company policy, then the improvement ideas should be implemented as stated.
If you’ve never really tried active listening, you might be in for a real surprise as to just how effective it can be.