Sunday, October 24, 2010

"But, Mom, Everyone Else is Doing It"

Sometimes it feels like beating on a dead horse. Some companies say that they've made great strides using change programs like Lean and Six Sigma. However, only a few say that it's made them profitable. Most change programs generate lots of sales in books, training sessions and consulting fees. Certainly there are improvements made, but they don't often translate to the bottom line.

Here's why...
  1. The program is dictated by the customer, and not driven by internal needs: I know one company that was advised that if they wanted to stay on the approved supplier list, they needed to conduct 15 kaizen blitzes each year. The customer was less than 1% of the total sales, and didn't understand how product variety made Lean difficult to implement.
  2. The program fits with a different business model: the business is driven by innovation and staying close to the customer, and being flexible and agile to meet their needs. The program demands standardization. Likewise, the company has strong competition on just a few market parameters (like price and delivery) but puts in a program to enhance innovation.
  3. Similarly, the program detours resources away from the strategic plan, or never gets the right resources because the company has allocated all of the "best" resources towards executing the strategic plan. Invariably, the organization will have its strategic plan (and lots of projects associated with it), its annual goals (and lots more projects associated with them) and departmental goals (and lots more projects), and team goals, and individual goals (and lots get it). The poor slob in the middle of the org chart has 20-30 departmental projects to work on, and if he wants to be a "team player", he's supposed to help with 20-30 additional projects planned by his peers in other departments. Now let's add a change program in here. Good luck!
  4. "But, Mom, everyone else is doing it": Because there's an article every day, week, or month that XYZ company is now doing "the new, improved cost reduction program" is the dumbest reason to put in a change program. You're following the crowd and not thinking for yourself and whether the program is really going to accomplish what you want or need.
  5. Change for change's sake: "We don't like our results so we're going to make a change." For awhile (some say since sometime just after WWII in military & governmental circles) there was a quote running around the business world falsely attributed to Petronius Arbiter 210 B.C. "We trained hard . . . but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams we would be reorganized. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing; and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization." If you read some of my other blogs, you'll know that it's really hard for people to make behavioral changes. So putting a program or new structure on top of the same behaviors will not yield any different results. Determine what new results you want and then determine which change will get you there.
  6. The program is not integrated into the "routine" work. "After you take care of the customer, make sure you fill out the program activity report." Kaizen blitzes are good one for this in Lean campaigns. I've seen teams wait till the next kaizen blitz is scheduled before suggesting any changes; they want the credit during the "official" program event.
  7. The wrong people are involved or the right people are not invited to join the effort: Oakley and Krug have written a book that encourages people to be involved--the knowledge is in the room, they say. Making Managers into Leaders: A Five Step Framework for Breakthrough Results I've been involved in too many meetings when the machine operators, the assemblers, the bank tellers and other people involved with the situation for 8-12 hours each day were not invited. I've stopped a lot of meetings until their input was gotten. Also, too many times, the program team composition doesn't have the requisite set of skills in order to achieve the expected outcome.
  8. The organizational culture and values won't support change: The people within the organization don't trust that they will see any benefits or there's a lack of trust throughout the organization or there's a lack of integrity (the company's being asked to walk the talk but the walk isn't enforced).
Enough of the curmudgeonly attitude. There's a solution to these things, and there's a way to affect real change. See my other blogs about making change, but most of all: "Don't Make Change a Program." Determine what results you want to see. Determine what change is necessary to get there. Talk about it and the reasons for it. Make the change. Talk about it some more till everyone gets it.

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