There have been many comments on my blog articles about the need for operators to become change agents during the Lean Manufacturing Transformation. All of which I fully support and subscribe to.
People are the company’s most valuable assets, not the shiny new machine or swanky new IT system. Without the involvement of the people in the area of the change from very early on, the likelihood is that the intended change initiative will fail. The reasons for this are very obvious, none of us really likes being told what to do, how to do it or when to do it. After the initial high profile period, many initiatives, revert back to where they were, the people are in their comfort zone and management resign this initiative to another failure, label the people and unchangeable and try to implement another initiative in exactly the same way!
If on the other hand, after you have recognised the need for change and planned a change project, set the project definition and identified the project goals, when it is time to start the change process, communicate the project properly to everyone. I insist on both written and oral communications, so that people can ask questions, allay their fears and be reassured about their security. Which are the real underlying fears of any new initiative. I give a project kick off meeting for senior managers, a separate one for middle managers and then a specific project kick off meeting for each kaizen team. I get operators into the project as early as possible, facilitate the action meetings for a few times to make sure that all voices have equal say and that all team members have parity, whether they are senior managers or operators in the company. This is a big factor in the success of all of my projects.
That said, the lower down the organogram the employee the more encouragement they need to make their ideas heard, after all, they are the ones who actually make the product or enter the data into a system! They are the ones that we want to own the process and these are the ones who we want to actually implement the change.
Herein lies the problem the managers! The managers want to be everything in the change process. They want, in fact they might even need, to show their superiors, the consultants and their subordinates their knowledge and management skill. By doing this they are curtailing the creative effort of others. It is the responsibility of the management consultant to change the role of the manager in the project from a manager to one of a coaching and supporting leader. Their superiors already know their capabilities, that is why they have employed them, what they want now is for them to step up to the mark, clichés again and get the best out of the people who work for them.
I have faced this problem in nearly every project I have been involved in. It is difficult to get a manager to change their role, months in fact, but when they see that they get results that they have not achieved in the past and they are getting accolades for leading the project and not doing the project, then perceptions do change.
The underlying fact is that some people are in positions where they don’t have the training or experience to fully undertake the role they are filling and where the company doesn’t realise there is a problem because they are profitable. This profitability hides many problems and is accepted until there is a crisis that prompts action. This observation is backed up by the research that I did for the dissertation of my MBA. I was researching why British Engineering companies fail to employ modern manufacturing methods, but this can be mapped over to other change projects.