Saturday, 30 November 2013

How leaders create resistance to change

When they try to reform without first having gained trust.

We've all seen the tremendous waste of resistance to change, when a leader wants to change things for the better, but every one else holds back, soldiers on or even sabotages. We see it at company level, we can see it now at country level. Some times, resistance is so strong it can derail (or at least bog down) the entire reform, and some consultants have specialized in this one single issue: overcoming resistance to change.

When the leader is strong, and resistance is everywhere, leaders tend to retreat to a bunker mentality and force the changes through, not matter what, at increasing costs to all around. They can't understand why people simply won't see that their "solution" is better, necessary and urgent. We need to reform education now! We need to reorganize the company now!

Leaders themselves create the resistance whenever they push changes through without having made the effort to gain people's trust first. This is one of the tough lessons I learned from my mentors, Dan Jones and Jacques Chaize a decade ago. Having worked a lot in the auto industry, I believed that you had to expect resistance in any case, and drive changes through no matter what. It might work in the end, but at what cost?

Now, when I work with any new facility, I start with a kaizen ergonomics first. Managers are taught to do frequent, short, workshops with their teams to support team members in fixing obvious ergonomics issues. They help where they can, not by managerial advice, but by getting support from other parts of the organizations. Before anything else, they build mutual trust.

Where managers succeed, all the other changes brought by pull systems, improving flow and red bins and so on happen seamlessly, and sometimes even enthusiastically by engaged team members. The lesson is that improvement can only happen within a relationship, and you have to build the relationship before driving reforms, so that every one has a chance of seeing their interest and contribution, as well as a chance of changing things where they don't understand what the reform is supposed to achieve.

Friday, 29 November 2013

Why are developed societies rich - and wasteful?

I was in Brazil lately, and noticed that apartment blocks were built out of cinderblocks. I visit a couple of construction sites per month in France, and buildings have concrete walls poured into metal workforms. As I thought it through, I figured that labour cost in western Europe is high, so it makes sense to seek higher productivity through investing in equipment - the work forms are large and expensive, but require far less labor per unit. On the other hand, using them cost-effectively requires a methods department, and then some scheduling software and so on. On the plus side the thermal and sound insulation of a poured concrete wall is better than one built of cinderblocks.

Any one who has visited a German factory will know what I mean - a high value, high cost, high productivity equilibrium of high quality goods made on expensive machines sustained by large engineering departments but little direct labor. When Germans build a leveling board, they construct it out of shiny aluminum rather than plywood. As productivity is wealth, this high cost equilibrium creates overall largely white-collar wealthy societies.

The flip side is that the division of labor between various department encourages each department to do the best they can in their light, and in the end create vastly over-engineered solutions and strikingly wasteful systems. For instance, ISO certification requires staff to write procedures which will then be audited, and the cost of all of this is added onto the product. It's waste.

Cost control doesn't work because there is no real way back to cheap labor. If cost cutting is too severe, some activities fail altogether and the system no longer produces quality goods, which is the beginning of a death downward spiral - something we're unfortunately familiar with in French industry. Is waste therefore unavoidably part of any highly developed society?

Not necessarily. Each specialist, indeed each person, can be taught to see for themselves the waste they generate on the overall system and learn to work in wiser ways to reduce this waste, and in kinder ways to better cooperate with others across functional barriers to reduce the overall waste. The trick here is to learn to identify specific types of waste, such as badly mixing concrete and having to rework the concrete walls out of the form by direct labor, and progressively taking the wasteful element out of the high-value equilibrium. To reduce waste, we first need to see waste, and understand how our own behavior causes it to happen.

The new power lines

A waste-free society is definitely "the" new frontier.  It is not a traditional frontier anymore: the new terra incognita are not far away in space or time but within each of us: we are the frontier!
Individual accomplishment in a society, moving from an economy of scale to an economy of scarce, is involving a radical shift of our old routines, the way we act, and the way we think.
Finding growth for everyone in a waste-free world will require us to be cooperative and smart, Kinder and Wiser.

Kinder. Suppressing the frontiers of time and space has left open the last frontier: human interactions. New wealth will come from our ability to combine our skills to find and implement new and better ways. Cooperation is a keystone. And it starts with respect: including all the players and their aspirations unto the game: it is not about being nice, it is about recognising the fact that we are all part of the world’s destiny and we depend on each other's intelligence to create waste-less growth. A french philosopher* used to say: "believing in someone's intelligence will help it grow, but denying it will destroy it".  If it was nice in the past to be powerful and kind, being kinder may be a new source of power.

Wiser. The challenge is to create new products and services with a frugal use of non-renewable resources and also a leveraged use of ever-renewable resources like people intelligence and learning capacities. Developing these smart resources will increase our ability to address and share the right questions; our capacity to draw re-use and recycle the necessary resources and deliver  smart and waste-free products and solutions. Being wiser is already a new resource to feed the  new power lines! 

*Jean Guéhenno

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

A waste-free society

Imagine a waste-free society! A society were individual growth and fulfillment can be sustained not by limiting consumption or access to experience, but by completely eliminating the monstrous waste in our production and delivery processes. 30% of food thrown away. 50% of energy waste. Imagine thriving innovation without so much creative destruction. Imagine cool new products without built-in obsolescence or design flaws.

Twenty years of lean thinking and experiments have taught us that such imaginings are not mere fantasy but a very real possibility if we go beyond spot improvement to intensive collaboration and widespread participation in continuous improvement, and if we learn to draw every one, everywhere, to the cause of complete elimination of waste.

This will not happen by waiting from providential designers to come up with the next best thing. It won't happen by imposing narrow discipline of broken processes. It will happen if we collectively outline an ideal of a waste-less society and encourage every person's contribution to demonstrate, mosaic-like how this ideal can become a reality.

This is what I hope we'll start together, here, just by outlining our thoughts and experiences and exploring the mental space of the "not impossible", just one step beyond the possible. One step at a time. The only question is: have we got enough passion to change the world?