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Making Change with Defensive Employees and Managers

Prior to engaging in a Lean Transformation, I have had company owners warn me of certain employees. One owner said, “Be aware of Joe, he has worked here 20 years and doesn’t like change. He thinks his job cannot be improved.” Or, “Mary is defensive, she just wants to do her job and go home. She never volunteers for teams.” What I hear is that these folks are performing their tasks, but that their bosses have not created the environment to support positive change. If the business needs change you will need to make decisions on who is going to be part of the change.

“Resisting Change Graphic

You could fire them for insubordination if they fail to do as instructed or help them to understand why the business needs their help in making the changes. I believe most people come to work to do a job and it’s up to management to give them the tools. Those tools fall into 3 categories; physical tools, material and training.  In today’s environment of “can’t find enough good people” you need everyone’s help and valuable ideas. Notwithstanding, sometimes there are people with extenuating circumstances who cannot adapt, those “one percenters” may become fallout.

It is not always the employees fault for being closed minded, they have only been doing what we have asked of them. If we seldom or never require them to think outside their box, they probably won’t do so voluntarily. The direction of an organization and its people is guided from the top, and any changes happen slowly. Like a pendulum, any small move from the top effects a large swath at the bottom. How then can a manager at the top best guide the organization through needed change when all employees are not on board?

The simple answer is to get everyone on board. But to do so, the boss first needs to know which direction we are going and then provide the vision, resources and urgency to make it happen. This plan then must be communicated effectively and with repetition. I can tell if an organization communicates well when the corner office tells me the same things that the shop floor or office employee tell me. If after communicating the new direction, they still resist, it may be time to get a seasoned facilitator involved. With 20 years of taking companies through change, I have encountered many curmudgeons, rigid personalities and seemingly difficult people. The common thread in most is that they want to be heard and given a chance to continue to contribute. If they say, “that won’t work” your response should be “ok tell me what you think will work.” Making positive change in their area will reap multiple benefits beyond the obvious. Having them attend a workshop where they can “see and do” is the beginning. Those workshops may be for utilizing Lean Tools, Effective Communication, and Team Building. For difficult Managers, additional Leadership Development may be needed. A good place to start is with self-assessment which will show them how they compare to other Supervisors in various situations. From there they learn how to improve their behavior to enable a better interaction with their subordinates. Immediately following the classroom learning, I involve them in a Kaizen where the real rewards begin to appear. It is not best to involve too many defensive people on the same kaizen, but I will always take one. By the end of the kaizen event they will have grown to some degree.

All strategic plans and cultural changes must start at the top. This can be with varying levels of assistance and input, depending on the scope. Do you have staff with knowledge in Strategic Planning, Organizational Change, Advanced Manufacturing, Progressive Leadership or Lean Manufacturing Tools? At AKA we start with our experienced Customer Service Managers ascertaining where your organization is not achieving goal. The CSM will structure a program with you and create a proposal. A kickoff will introduce you to a dedicated AKA Project Manager with whom you and your team will remain for executing the proposal throughout the entire change process. A basic 6 step process is below:

1)      Identify the pain points where the organization must change. Recognize the need to change and explain it, create a sense of urgency. Paint a picture of what you want the future to look like. Provide an achievable end date.

2)      Create a Steering Committee and get your Management team on board. Paint a picture of what you want the future to look like. Share this vision with everyone and repeat. They all must support the change.

3)      Train managers and employees in needed tools. Lean 101, Value Stream Mapping, Team Building, Effective Communication and Leadership Development.

4)      Create a Future State process map. Have cross-functional teams map major processes as they currently exist and what work best for the future.

5)      Create an Action List with dates and divide into loops. This will determine which improvement is an “action”, requiring one person to complete or “kaizen” needing team involvement. Allow time for regular review of progress and celebrate incremental achievements.

6)      Implement according to the Future State Map and involve everyone possible. A kaizen can, and should, include a process outsider from a different functional area.

“Change Graphic

Here’s the good news about change! The more you allow your organization to implement needed changes, the faster and less disruptive future changes become. A boss once told me that we change because the market and our competition are constantly changing. Those that do not adapt will get left behind. Are there defensive or seemingly difficult employees in your organization that are keeping you from making effective change?

Let Advantage Kentucky Alliance help.  AKA can facilitate your company through the change process and work with your team to bring direction and purpose to your manufacturing activities. Let Advantage Kentucky Alliance’s Lean experts help your team attain great success.   As the MEP for the state of Kentucky, we do receive funding from the government which allows us to buy down the costs of any of the services that we provide.  To find out more about how AKA can help you with change,  continuous improvementbusiness growth, leadership development, CyberSecurity, Quality Management Systems - ISO, or Safety, call our Marketing Specialist, Kurt Felten, directly at (270) 745-3370, and begin the conversation today.

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