This is an excerpt from The Simple Leader: Personal and Professional Leadership at the Nexus of Lean and Zen
People don’t resist change, they resist being changed.
– Peter Senge
To survive, an organization must be continually improving and changing. This requires both leadership commitment and the support and input from all employees. It is important to be mindful and aware of the concerns of everyone involved, in order to leverage their support.
As Peter Scholtes, author of The Leader’s Handbook, noted, people don’t automatically resist change. But they do want to understand the change and be given the opportunity to provide input, which creates ownership. This is one of the key advantages of kaizen: the change process includes people from all levels of the organization, particularly those that are part of the production process. Additionally, involving people in the kaizen efforts and giving people the training and support they need to create change shows respect for them.
Employees want to understand the impact of change on their livelihoods. Leaders can forget what it is like to live from paycheck to paycheck, and when people are fearful of how they will support their families, they tend to have a very conservative perspective on change. This will slow down the improvement process, unless leaders give workers transparency, trust, and ownership.
To create security, some Lean organizations tell their employees that no one will lose their jobs as a result of improvement activities. This is powerful, but you also want to be careful. Be sure to link the security directly to the improvement activities and avoid giving the impression that it transcends issues outside of your control, such as sudden changes in the market. You want to create trust, and trust requires transparency and only making promises you can keep.
To optimize improvement efforts, respect your people by asking them to play a key role in the improvement process. Give them confidence they will not be harmed by potential side effects of the improvement effort, offer training and mentoring so they know how to create improvements, and provide them with the time to identify and execute improvement activities. If you do these things, you will find they are more likely to embrace the changes you want.