Large Scale Change of Organizations

Lean Six Sigma is Easy, Changing Behaviors is Hard

John Kotter's book, The Heart of Change, speaks to what works and what doesn't work when it comes to changing corporate cultures. What's the secret sauce? Changing people's behaviors.

Eight Steps for Successful Change

Implementing Lean Six Sigma is ultimately a large-scale change. I have argued for the last 15 years that it is most easily done by focusing on important projects and solving real problems. This crawl-walk-run approach maximizes results and minimizes blow back. This approach can easily be set to Kotter's eight-step approach

Kotter's Eight Steps

  1. Increase urgency
  2. Build a guiding team
  3. Get the vision right
  4. Communicate for buy-in
  5. Empower action
  6. Create short-term wins
  7. Don't let up
  8. Make change stick

Crawl Walk Run

  1. Important real problems are urgent
  2. Leadership can laser focus teams on key problems
  3. Leadership can imagine a future with flawless execution
  4. Support teams that solve critical problems
  5. Make initial and ongoing teams successful
  6. Initial projects that solve critical problems are wins
  7. Wave after wave of improvement projects will sustain the improvement
  8. As Deming would say: Constancy of purpose

Barriers to Change

Kotter identifies four barriers to change that cause employees to hesitate:

  • Complacency driven by false pride or arrogance (We're good enough.)
  • Hiding driven by fear
  • You-can't-make-me driven by anger
  • Pessimism from the skeptics

I have argued that the best way to avoid these is to engage the innovators and early adopters who want to change the system. Avoid the skeptics, avoid the arrogant and embrace the ready. When you make them successful and talk about their success, the early majority will develop their own sense of urgency to join in. As they become successful, the late majority will develop a desire to participate. And ultimately, the skeptics will join in or leave.

Changing Behavior

Kotter argues that no amount of rational, business case analysis will get people to change. You have to get them to see the problem, feel the consequences and change.

  • See the problems that are hobbling the business in an emotional way. In a hospital it might be the patient who died unnecessarily of a medical mistake. In a manufacturing company it might be the loss of a major customer because of quality problems. Ask yourself: Where's the pain?
  • Feel the pain. How do we get people to feel the pain so acutely that they overcome their hesitation and become incensed enough to get involved.
  • Change of heart. Feeling the pain and envisioning the gain will help employees engage in Lean Six Sigma.

Here's my point: 

Lean Six Sigma is easy. Getting employees engaged in the change is key to transforming a culture to quality. And it's often done one employee at a time by getting them to see and feel the problems and opportunities in such a way that they start to want to change. When you give them a method like Lean Six Sigma and support them in successfully implementing improvements to create ongoing wins, the culture will shift. It won't happen over night, but it will happen over time.

Rights to reprint this article in company periodicals is freely given with the inclusion of the following tag line: "© 2015 Jay Arthur, the KnowWare® Man, (888) 468-1537,"

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