We’ve all encountered the Doubting Thomas. The person who, when presented with process-based thinking and improvement concepts (especially when the concepts derived from manufacturing are applied to managerial or knowledge-work activities), resists the ideas stubbornly and vocally.
It’s understandable. The concepts are often counter-intuitive and especially for folks who are working their tails off, or who have managed to survive in a difficult, command-and-control environment, tend to feel more like an opportunity for punishment than an opportunity to learn.
What I have come to realize, however, is that within all the reasons why a process can’t be changed, won’t be changed, or why it did not work last time lies a vital component necessary for overall improvement to begin – a definition of the current state. What all those protestations are giving us is the perception of the current state that is held by the people who are living with whatever process, as suboptimal or utterly broken as it may be.
What the person sees is their reality. A reality where both people and things don’t work. What they are sharing, when they complain, is their knowledge of the way things really work around here. When improvement concepts are introduced, they tend to take the tone of “Here’s the way things can or should work around here.” When poorly introduced, the new ideas sound condescending at best, and threatening at worst. What those ideas represent, however, is the ideal state – the concept of the way things should work, even if we don’t know how to get from here to there.
So, how to overcome the reluctance and resistance?
For that, you have to go back to the principles of the Shingo Model: Easier, Better, Faster, cheaper….in that order.
Instead of worrying about satisfying internal requirements for cost reduction or improved yield, or what not – all of which tend to be perceived more as annoying projects than opportunities for improvement. What you should focus on is, genuinely, making the work the people are being asked to perform easier. As it gets easier by eliminating unnecessary steps, the quality of the work ought to improve – which means better.
All too often, the purpose of improvement is stated in terms of company goals (which usually means little more than just cost reduction). If you bring the purpose down to a more personal level, however, you find a much greater degree of satisfaction. Since people, naturally, want to do a good job then giving them the opportunity to make work easier for themselves, and producing a better outcomes at the same time, brings out a great deal of pride and enthusiasm.
The best advocate for process improvement? Someone who has personally benefitted.