Friday, April 24, 2020

 “The only constant is change”, this universal truth uttered by Heraclitus in 500 BC is very much valid today. Continuous improvement means constant change for the better. Our customers, once they embark on the journey, of continuous improvement, commit to leading and adhering to certain changes - of mindset, behavior and actions – in order to make improvements successful and sustainable. We make decisions everyday to change things in our lives in order to be healthier, look better, be more productive. In this period, we are changing our usual habits to adjust our lives to quarantine conditions.

However, we can fail at trying to make a change. Probably all of us have heard at one point “the methodology failed” when some companies tried to implement a CI approach and then stopped. We may have experienced failure ourselves by quitting our New Year’s resolutions the second week of January. We may fear the change, which often sounds like: “It will never work”, “We tried it 10 years ago – it didn’t work”, “My people don’t like change”, “I can’t do this”..

It happens because changing IS hard.

One reason is because change requires energy to control and supervise our newly focused actions. According to psychologists and authors of the superb book “Switch”, after a while of trying to adopt the new set of patterns to follow, our mental muscles drain, we feel exhausted, rationalize our actions against the change and eventually stop. So, what may look like resistance is sometimes just exhaustion trying to consciously deter us from our decisions. It is certainly easier to set our autopilots and drive us through the day with our usual activities. The problem is, such behavior leads nowhere but to the status quo.

Another reason is we fail to provide what is needed to help the change along. The authors of “Switch” say that one needs to please both, the rational and the emotional part of our brains and shape our environment. Below are some points to consider when trying to make or lead change, that encompass those three prerequisites:

because “clarity dissolves resistance”. Resistance to change and stubbornness is often a consequence of unclear or ambiguous directions. Always start with defining specific goals and dedicate a timeline for them.
(show WHAT it is exactly that you want to achieve and HOW MUCH TIME it will take to do it).

2. MAKE THE DESTINATION APPEALING - If set the scene properly, people will want to get there. It shows where you are headed and proves the journey is worth doing since it has a purpose. Meaningfulness inspires people, creating the momentum.
(show WHY you are doing it).

3. SET THE MILESTONES - Define specific and critical behavior necessary to make the change successful. There will be plenty of obstacles along the way that may alter some of your planned activities, but you will have critical moves to keep you on track.
(show the HOW).

4. FOCUS ON “What’s working and how we can make more of it”
. If you try to improve something, it doesn’t mean that everything about it is bad or that you must import all the solutions offered. That usually leads to “it is not the same process”, “those ideas would not work here” and other similar phrases and attitudes. There is a study that shows that it is in our nature to be inclined to discuss and focus only on negatives (62 % of words explaining emotions are negative ones – imagine!). Instead of focusing on the magnitude of the problem you are trying to tackle and the negative of it that can feel overwhelming, focus on the positive - what is working and improve upon it. Why is one area of your production performing better than the other? Learn from it, implement it, improve and share. (show the POSITIVE examples)

5. MOTIVATE. Sometimes it's not enough to understand the problem or what to do with it. If motivation is lacking, we will still struggle with our efforts in solving it. But (how) do you motivate people? This is one of the most frequently asked questions to us as consultants. Many companies tend to offer money, going for the “carrot and stick” approach and trying to show that everything can be bought. Not motivation, at least, not long term.

  • Motivation comes from belonging and purpose. Engage people, bring in the enthusiasm regarding the change. It has been proven that highlighting negative aspects of an endeavor “has a narrowing effect” on our thoughts. Positive feelings “broaden and build” our scope of actions and thoughts. Bring joy and play to the table. Show you believe in the purpose of the journey. Stay positive. Engage, engage, engage. It will yield creativity, encourage open-mindedness and bring the will for that change and even bigger improvements.
  • Motivation comes from results. So, “shrink the change” and make your advancement visible and quantifiable. When milestones look too distant or big, we risk the resistance from the overwhelming sense or “I can’t do it” deal. Break them down into small increments that you or your team can easily tackle and measure. Do small (daily) wins. Celebrate. Repeat. Small wins will snowball into victories that will trigger positive behavior and inspire others to react and do more. You will FEEL the change and be proud. A journey that may have started with fear and resistance will evolve slowly toward a feeling of confidence and pride.
  • Motivation comes from confidence and trust. Invest in your people. It is not as simple as to only plan well and execute. You need to grow your people internally. Invest into training and their learning-by-doing so that people feel confident they CAN tackle tasks. Build the capability and show you trust your people.

Make the journey easier and achievable for people. Introduce mistake-proofing whenever possible. Remove any friction along the way. Support others. Create an environment where people would follow the lead of change. Sometimes what looks like a character problem can be an environmental problem.

Whatever change you are planning on, bear in mind that people who have “CLEAR DIRECTION, AMPLE MOTIVATION & A SUPPORTIVE ENVIRONMENT” change.

References and additional reading suggestion:
“Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard” by Dan Heath and Chip Heath.