4.26.2012

Psychological Barriers to Lean Initiatives?

Chris Ortiz has published many books on kaizen and its benefits, but his recent book -- The Psychology of Lean Improvements: Why Organizations Must Overcome Resistance and Change the Culture -- covers an entirely different area of Lean initiatives: the psychology behind why businesses avoid Lean transformations. I recently spoke to Chris and asked him, "Why are there psychological barriers to Lean initiatives?" Here is his insightful response:

Change is never easy. Even in micro-amounts, we as humans avoid change. Even though positive transformation can result, changing paradigm, breaking old habits, and discarding established routines can be tough transitions for anyone, management included. Resistance to change will come in a variety of forms and we as consultants can see it at all levels.

You can sense the anxiety in people when their work area is being changed and more severally when there is no real reason why (or at least in their minds). Front-line workers may or may not see Lean as “leaning people out.” Improved productivity and reduced cycle times may be perceived as less work, and then less jobs. Unless the company is nearing complete bankruptcy, Lean is not intended to eliminate jobs.

One psychological barrier is the concept of victimizing. Victimizing is the sense people have that the company is reducing waste with no real reason. It almost borders on a feeling of being personally attacked. People become very attached to their space and oddly enough, to things they don’t own. There is sense of oneness with the means at their disposal. Often it is the only place at work they feel they have control over. As the team is sorting tools and removing what is deemed unnecessary, I often hear from resistant workers, "What are YOU going to do with MY tools?" This is a good example of what you will have to deal with. People often find something "negative" or out of place to recognize and not the effective aspects.

This is just part of the resistance to change even if it does not involve the person making the comment. Fear of change. We all have it. We all deal with it differently. Some of us accept change immediately, some take a little time, others never get there.

What do you think of Chris' thoughts? Does his summation reflect your experiences? How have you overcome the resistance to improvement? Lean has been labeled "anti-intuitive" -- Is that a strong factor that leads to resistance?

44 comments:

Dean Bliss said...

This is an important topic that sometimes doesn't get enough attention. The "change" aspect of Lean improvements MUST be addressed, particularly in organizations that are set in their ways or have been successful with the status quo.

Anonymous said...

As above, I fully agree. The financial consequences of not dealing with the psychology of change, in hopes that people will eventually get "on board" with the process, can be just as devastating. Healthcare workers, until recently, have not had to address significant change in their work places. Having gone through LEAN initiatives, it was my experience that keeping "resistant" staff was more costly to the organization due to added training time, loss of productivity, subsequent loss of revenue, and more importantly increased risk and liability. Before Lean is introduced, I would encourage organizations to first address how they will deal with the psychology of change. This takes strong leadrership and a clear plan.

Ari Krause said...

I certainly agree with both of the above. The psychology behind lean and other improvement processes is the largest stumbling block. The company's processes and production cannot improve unless all employees of the company from CEO to front line workers are on board. That's why involving all employees at as many stages of improvement as possible is in the company's best interest. The more that employees understand about the change, why it's needed and what it will mean for the company, the less the change will be feared, but psychological barriers will still arise during improvement processes.

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Victimisation is the process of being victimised or becoming a victim, this a pattern wherein the victim of abuse or crime has a statistically higher tendency to be victimised again.

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