Effective and Sustainable Lean Transformation Requires Effective Change Leadership
Playing the healthcare-based “Lakeview” hospital simulation and learning about the ExperiencePoint change model, shown below, was really
This experience made me wonder: Why had some organizations not really embraced “Lean management” principles even though their business was really struggling? Why did some leaders expect others to just follow their command to “get Lean” and to do things differently?
In the course of my early years in healthcare, I worked for a consulting group that had a somewhat implicit model for improvement projects that included change management elements that mapped pretty closely to the explicit ExperiencePoint model — and a majority of those initiatives were successful and sustainable — probably at a higher rate than you'd see out there in general.
It's one thing to have knowledge about Lean methods; leading people and affecting change in an organization is very difficult. In other words, it's one thing to know how Toyota does things — those are facts. But, how do we get an organization from where they are today to a Toyota level of performance? That requires more than subject matter expertise — it requires effective change management or, perhaps, change leadership…
Far too often, people learn about a methodology, like Lean, or a specific tool, like Kanban or 5S, and, in their excitement, they push the new approach on others. Not surprisingly, this push leads to a lot of push back. It's a natural human response (and it sounds like that law of physics about an equal and opposite reaction). Pushing change on others doesn't work. Or, it might work for a while, but ends up being unsustainable.
I was guilty of this in my early years (as I've written about in the anthology book Practicing Lean). As an engineer, I would develop a solution to a problem and it was my job to push it on others. Then, managers and I would wring our hands about why people weren't using the new tool. Didn't they realize there was an important business problem to be solved? Didn't they know a new way was necessary?
Ah, those difficult questions… the answer was, too often, “No.” From the standpoint of the workers, they were comfortable with the way they had always done things. It was natural that people would reject a new way or revert back to the old way when managers weren't looking. In situations like that, we shouldn't blame others for being “resistant to change.” We should reflect on the way we (as engineers or managers) didn't fully engage the people doing the work.
When I started working in healthcare, I was taught (and developed) some methods that fall very much in line with the ExperienceChange model. Instead of rushing ahead to take action, we formed a core group within the client's hospital department. Having a cross-functional team dedicated to the change initiative for a period of months allowed me, as the consultant, to fully engage them since they were freed from the daily work. This core team was able to study and analyze the current state, working with others in their department to create a more broadly-shared understanding of the opportunity for improvement (and the need for change).
The core group had the time and ability to learn Lean concepts, allowing them to create a future vision for a new laboratory layout, a new MRI scheduling process, or things like that. The core group then was able to help motivate the rest of their colleagues, using two-way communication to refine the vision and plan, gaining buy-in through that process. Only then was the team ready to move forward with turning their vision into new workflows and a new reality.
Instead of complaining, after the fact, about a lack of sustainment (as I hear so often in the context of Lean), we created buy-in along the way instead of trying to create it after the fact (when it's too late).
Without an effective change management model and approach, I might have continued to be trapped in that ineffective cycle of being an expert who was tasked with coming up with the correct solution.
Clients would sometimes ask, “Wouldn't it be faster if you just told us what to do from your experience?” “Sure,” I'd respond, “But that won't be effective or sustainable. We'll come up with better solutions as a team and that engagement is exactly what leads to sustainment.”
As I've learned, the hard way, having the right solution isn't enough.
Seeing others struggle with change (and the lack of a change management methodology) motivated me to get certified as an ExperienceChange facilitator a few years back. I'm just sorry it took me so long to do so! I appreciate the model and simulations that ExperiencePoint provides. They resonate with people. The workshops I run open people's eyes in a fun, non-threatening way. And that leads to greater success with Lean (as it would with any other large-scale change).