Making change stick in shops

Making change stick in shops

Continuous improvement coach says change can be enacted, but it has to be done delicately and employees must see the benefits

DAVID Kwinn, a continuous improvement coach who has a Six Sigma Black Belt and has worked with major multi-national corporations, has seen it before.

He visits a company and in one day can typically come up with major improvements. The company will experience an immediate 30% reduction in cycle time. And then a week later, the company is back to where it was before.

What went wrong?

“Most of the time, process-improvement people are techies with an engineering background, and they don’t pay much attention to the people side of the deal,” he said. “In classes, there really isn’t much said about process improvement. The idea is that if you tell people to do it, they‘ll do it. But this is just like New Year’s resolutions or diet changes.

David Kwinn

“When it doesn’t stick, what do you try to do to make it stick? You tell them you work there: ‘I’m telling you to do it this way or the door swings both ways.’ And then they say a series of four-letter words. Just because you order people to do it doesn’t mean they will. In fact, it’s just the opposite.

“Your business will not grow unless customers are happy, and customers won’t be happy if employees aren’t happy.”

Kwinn, appearing in Las Vegas at SOLD14 (Service Opportunities & Learning Day) sponsored by the Service Specialists Association, spoke on “Making Change Stick in Shops.”

Kwinn said he’s an old dog who has learned a new trick. He thought he knew how to peel a banana, but he was wrong. He knew that when he read a book that described how it’s much easier to do it like monkeys do—by opening the banana at the other end. That’s done by making a tiny incision in the tip and then splitting the skin open. It’s less likely to bruise, and the stalk end can be used as a holder.

“Now that’s an example of a positive change,” Kwinn said. “But it took me a long time to get myself to peel it from the other end. Likewise, if you say, ‘Put your tools back in the proper place,’ why do you think telling them once will work? That’s a completely unrealistic expectation. It’s going to take a lot of time. A lot of times when you make changes, people don’t see the benefit. So they don’t see an effort to be motivated. Until you can show them the benefit, you’re not going anywhere.”

Why is change a problem?

•  A lot of people are stressed and demoralized. “There are graphs to show that has been increasing over the last several years. As economic performance has been going down, stress and demoralization are going up. So people are burned out.”

•  They don’t understand why they have to change. “They see no benefit to it.”

•  There is no belief that things can get better. “Take Wal-Mart, for example. The employees hide from customers. I asked one, ‘Do you know where the detergent is?’ She said, ‘Yes, but I’m on break.’ But then you go to Target and everybody’s happy and joyful.”

•  Most organizations handle change poorly. “That’s just a fact. Most chief executives lose their jobs because they handle change poorly. Nobody knows how to do it.”

What do people really fear? Change? Or something else?

“You hear the platitude, ‘Everybody hates change,’ ” he said. “But I’ve never seen anybody who won the lottery refuse to accept the money because it was going to change their life. So when you say people hate change, what do they hate?

“It’s getting out of their comfort zone, the uncertainty. They have to relearn. So why is it stressful to have to learn something or do something new? What is really going on? My theory is it’s not change itself they’re worried about. It’s losing face. Nobody wants to have a snotty teenager teach them how to use a smartphone. So the first thing you have to think about when you want to make change is how you can increase their self-esteem and not make them look stupid.

“People don’t hate change; they hate being changed. They don’t want to be bullied, blamed, or humiliated. They hate having their time wasted. Change should make people feel better and improve job satisfaction. Instead of telling them, ‘I’m going to teach you to put your tools away,’ you should say, ‘How can you make your job better? What drives you crazy?’ And they might say, Well, it’s when I have to run around looking for something.’ You say, ‘Well, OK, what do you think you could do about that?’ In other words, don’t be prescriptive. Make them think about a solution. You need to think about how to increase their self-esteem. And it’s not by telling them what to do.”

He said miscommunication is a common problem, because very little of what we say is actually understood in the way we say it. We should use short phrases, make them visual, and ask people to repeat what we were trying to say.

Other common pitfalls to change:

•  Superficiality.

“Distraction plays a major part; multitasking means people don’t give 100% attention. They have a short attention span—their attention wanders after a few minutes. People can only keep track of five to seven things at a time.

“Language plays a role. In most disputes, people are not defining words the same way. Be aware of your own assumptions about vocabulary. You may be using words that people don’t understand. One time during a presentation, I said, ‘This is a lot of ambiguity.’ A man raised his hand and said, ‘What is ambiguity?’ I thought that was good. I’m sure that in your business, you are interrogating customers about things they don’t understand and they are not telling you because they would be embarrassed.

“Be careful about generational issues: A lot of Generation Y people cannot tell time by the hands on a clock because they are digital people. Beware of figures of speech: ‘broken record’ and ‘dot i’s.’ You’d have to be pretty old to know what a broken record sounds like. Dot your i’s and cross your t’s means nothing to many because they never learned cursive.

“And I’m not even talking about cultural things. You may not be looking at a representative sample of who’s available to hire as a technician because you may have a prejudice about which kind of people should have these jobs. If you interview them, you might come to conclusions that are bogus because you’re asking questions they can’t answer because they don’t understand your figure of speech.”

He said LEAP Communication Improvement involves empathizing (validate feelings and don’t push data against emotions); agreeing (agree with a problem the person sees); and partnering (ask for help, to reposition yourself as nondirective figure). In some cases, you may have to use the LEAP cycle repeatedly with the same person.

•  Underestimating diversity in views, communication styles.

“Ask for permission before beginning. If you walk up to someone in the shop, say, ‘I wonder if you have a minute.’ Do not walk in and start talking. Always ask for permission. When you do that, the general tendency is people will say yes, so you’re starting on the right note. If you barge in, you’re kind of like a bully.

“Ask people what bothers them about a process. Give them time to think about the problem. Turn statements into questions. Instead of just saying, ‘I think this is a bad product,’ make it a question: ‘Do you think it is a bad product?’ Focus on the most important problem. So in a lot of cases, ask people to write down comments so they’re not embarrassed about speaking out. A lot of people are uncomfortable about speaking out.

“Brainstorm improvements and implement. Let everybody have a voice: ‘OK, which product line should be changed?’ It’s very helpful if people write down questions on post-it notes and let the group brainstorm as a whole.”

He said change effectively happens through ADKAR: awareness (they may not know about legal requirements, may not know about how to make changes); desire (you can’t assume everybody wants to make changes); knowledge (they may not have enough knowledge to know what needs to change); ability (they may know what it is but not have the ability to do it); and reinforcement.

“You have to go through the steps in that order or you won’t have successful change,” he said. “If you do, it will stick.”

•  Mismanaging pushback.

“People push back when they feel threatened. Somebody may have been doing a job for 30 years, and doing a good job. Before you make the change, you have to come up with a reason why. You might say, ‘Well, you do a wonderful job, but technology has changed, so some of the way we do things has to change.’ You take the pressure off so they don’t feel it’s their fault.

“Pushback can be good. It serves as a healthy defense mechanism and helps people manage anxiety. It may surface hidden issues. For example, if you tell someone he’s doing the job the wrong way, but they’ve been doing it for 30 years, you’re probably wrong. It behooves you to understand.

“Pushback can be used to create a better change. Ask them, ‘I’m thinking about doing this. What can go wrong?’ Everybody’s an expert on what can go wrong. Put it on the table and let the group decide whether or not there is a solution.

“You can promote buy-in long-term. Typically people rush in to try to make things happen and it’s like trying to plant wheat on a stone. You want people to analyze what you’re trying to do and take you seriously. The more people you have thinking, the better off you will be. Use pushback to your advantage. Ask why a new process won’t work. Get input from everybody. Ask people to think about countermeasures.”

How to get buy-in:

•  Have visible participation from everybody.

•  Understand the root cause of possible pushback.

•  Make people feel in control. “People say, ‘you don’t understand. We’re different.’ And they are different. Accept it.”

•  Respect the fact that people feel they are different.

•  Reinforce success.

How to make change stick:

•  Focus on what to do in the future, not on past mistakes.

•  Tell people quickly what you do want, not what you don’t want.

•  Reinforce new behavior immediately.

•  Focus on the present and future, not the past.

Reinforcement is a key:

•  On a daily basis, ask what is contributing to success.

•  Give feedback for doing the right thing, not just comments about the wrong thing.

•  Use green tags to point out good things.

•  Negative reinforcement leads to process variation, a cycle of compliance, and slippage.

•  Be patient with the time it takes to extinguish old behavior. “You have to go into it with the understanding it’s not going to happen immediately. You don’t give up smoking in a day. It might take a year.”

“Nothing is sustained without trust,” he said. “Trust is an expectation that another will not act opportunistically. It involves integrity, competence, good judgment, openness, and loyalty.

“Make sure people feel in control of their work. Reinforce positive behavior daily. If you come up with a new process to eliminate waiting and the employees have to change their behavior to make it happen, keep reinforcing and the customer will be happy.” ♦

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