Six Sigma is Easy; People are Hard

Tips for Helping People Accept and Embrace Change

If you've ever tried to run an improvement project or implement Lean Six Sigma, you know that the methods and tools are easy compared to getting people to embrace the change. Let's be honest: people like to participate in improving their job, but they don't like being told how to change their job. Even if you know how they can do it faster, better or cheaper, the easiest way to get people to improve their process is by getting them to figure it out. Takes a little longer and works a lot better.

At a presentation by CDOT (Colorado Department of Transportation) on how they manage change. They use a methodology called ADKAR®—Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability and Reinforcement. This is the step-by-step method used to implement changes in processes and systems.

Awareness - Why Do We Need To Change?

If you think about it, before you make a change, you have to notice that something needs to be changed, improved, or enhanced. Without awareness, nothing happens. How can you start to create awareness that something needs to change?

Desire - What's In It For Me?

It's one thing to be aware of the need to change; it's another to have the desire to change. Most smokers know they should quit, but most don't because they perceive the change as too painful (even though hypnosis can help people quit in one or two sessions).

The same is true in business. Every employee wants to know what's in it for me (WIIFM). What's important to one employee will not matter to another. Desire comes from wanting to achieve something and wanting to avoid discomfort. How will this change benefit me? What will it cost if I don't change?

Knowledge - How Do We Change?

Once you have the awareness and desire, you will need to know how to change the process, the work, the job. People are afraid of looking dumb or stupid. They are afraid of becoming obsolete. So they want to be trained to do the new job and fill new roles. How can you allay their fears by providing training to bridge the gap from the old way to the new way?

Ability - Can I Do It?

People have psychological barriers to change. Am I smart enough? Strong enough? Good enough? If we throw them in the deep end of the pool (as we often do in Six Sigma Green and Black Belt training), they may decide they just can't do it. When I train, I get students into the shallow end of the pool with seven tools and the QI Macros. I get them involved in value stream mapping and spaghetti diagramming in the morning; and then, in the afternoon, I get them drawing control charts, Pareto chart, histograms. I get them to analyze their own data with PivotTables. I leapfrog them over many of their perceived barriers and get them solving real problems in one day.

People like winning, learning, teamwork, being in control, being trusted and doing a good job. How can you help them feel capable of doing the changed job?

Reinforcement - What Will Keep It Going?

Any reinforcement has to matter to the employee. I have found that money is nice, but recognition is better. How can you make people feel like they are doing a good job in the changed environment?

There has to be accountability for following the changed process or procedure. What systems can you put in place to ensure the change sticks?

The CEO of one hospital system said it this way: "You just have to keep repeating the same message over and over again until everyone gets it. I just didn't know how long I would have to keep repeating it."

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