By Poul Breil-Hansen, Editor of Danish trade magazine “SCM & Logistik”
There are abundant studies documenting that change projects based on Lean and other methods are incapable of maintaining enthusiasm over a period of two to three years. The change process loses momentum, and results recede, don’t materialize at all, or even fall to a lower level than before the change project. The reputable Shingo Institute estimates that this is caused by companies and project managers being highly competent when it comes to implementing tools, whereas they are incapable of changing culture and behavior in the organization.“My postulate is that all too often we ignore the importance of the feelings of employees and managers involved in or affected by the changes," says John Vellema who, as founder and head of Business Through People, draws on experience from a large number of change projects in Danish and foreign companies during the last ten years.He adds:”We don’t spot these feelings, we don’t deal with them, and consequently we cannot rely on them as "allies" in the change process. Quite the opposite, they turn into an adversary, a hidden but very strong and powerful adversary capable of obstructing virtually anything."
According to John Vellema it is by no means surprising that we do not get to address the feelings in the change process. Tools belonging to Lean and other methods are rational parameters that appeal to the rational side of the human nature, and which we are amply trained to address in the educational system. However, we are not trained to deal with the more irrational parts of human nature, and according to John Vellema it is not at all surprising that we ignore the role that feelings and anxiety play, when we work to create change.John Vellema successfully applies a simple but effective method to convert feelings from being adversaries to becoming allies on the journey towards change. ”When a department or an entire company is to change the way they work it will almost always involve a lot of feelings and concerns. Among others expectation, enthusiasm and impatience but also anxiety, pressure, feeling of inadequacy, jealousy, guilt, sorrow, etc. It is quite normal and altogether reasonable to worry about whether one is capable of satisfying the requirements of a new role, which still remains obscure and hard to grasp. Evaluated rationally I have managed well in the past, but now with my new role, how will my former peers react? This is what creates anxiety and insecurity."
The method involves the establishment of a list of concerns, where all parties involved are given the opportunity to list the concerns that may be at stake. Experience shows that initially it may be difficult for employees and managers to gather the courage to verbalize their concerns, but normally all that is required is a bit of time and patience before the lid blows off. It may well be that the list of concerns needs to be on the agenda at two or three meetings or workshops, so as to ensure a gradual adaptation.“By no means is this an easy exercise and it may take some time for dialogue to gain momentum. These efforts require a high degree of trust and confidence, but an important point is precisely that trust and confidence is a prerequisite for the long-term success of the change process. Usually, the list will give rise to a number of tasks that should be addressed by management and/or internal consultants for the change efforts to gain speed. It is essential that employees and mid-level managers feel that their concerns are being taken seriously and will be dealt with. It is my experience that this process does away with a lot of the anxiety and resistance, and that it releases energy to implement the change; energy that could otherwise become a hidden opponent on the journey towards change," he says.
Consequently and as a general rule, the change process will progress at a somewhat slower pace during the start-up phase. But that is an investment, which pays off manifold in the long run, because it entails dealing with the barriers early, before they grow big and unbridgeable. In the end this will result in a more rapid change and a more lasting improvement.There is much talking about "respect for people" in Lean management, but, as I see it, talking rarely progresses into real action. To me respect also has to do with listening to your employees and acting on their concerns as we implement changes," says John Vellema.
At Amcor Flexibles in Horsens, Denmark they started working with lists of concerns in connection with a TWI project, during which they have initiated a change process involving a limited group. The list of concerns has led to a swifter surfacing of anxieties, fears and concerns. “We are a small group of people involved, and we are all very committed. The list of concerns was quickly cut by half, and we are continually following up on it. The list has contributed to the rapid creation of confidence with the change efforts and the future, towards which we are heading," says Eva Salenius-Lundberg, Continuous Improvement Manager at Amcor.
Working to operationalize how feelings and insecurity are handled. How do we ensure an effective and global change communication?Will this be followed all the way through, or will it just be another bubble that bursts? Are the others going to accept my new role? Many concerns have been placed on the list at PostNord Danmark Parcel Production.” I am confident that our efforts to expose and work with the concerns have cleared a lot of stumbling blocks off our way. The list of concerns has contributed to shed light on the nervousness - avoiding that it turns into coffee machine gossip and murmurs," says Karen Stenholt, TWI Facilitator and Lean consultant, PostNord Danmark Parcel Production.
Idealcombi, a North Jutland window manufacturer, has worked with list of concerns in connection with Lean implementation.” We consider the list of concerns as an important element of our Lean efforts. It verbalizes feelings and anxieties and contributes to concretize fears and worries, thus reducing the space they take up in our heads. There is no doubt that the list of concerns in the end contributes to make our journey towards Lean both faster and more powerful," says Torben Rathmann, Internal Lean Consultant at Idealcombi.