Manage Change

In his excellent book on Kanban, David Anderson teaches that

Existing processes will be optimized through introduction of visualization and limiting work-in-progress to catalyze changes. As existing roles and responsibilities do not change, resistance from employees should be minimal [emphasis mine].

Minimal resistance perhaps – but expect it just the same. Why do people resist change, even when it’s going to improve things? There are several generic realities to consider:

Change makes me incompetent. Even if I benefit, any change means things I do on “autopilot” or “muscle memory” have to be retrained.

There are always winners and losers, and the default assumption is that I’m one of the losers (if only because of temporary incompetence). The gains and losses can be subtle or huge:

  • when electronic systems were installed in police cars to allow patrolmen to run license plates and such on their own, the dispatcher lost a lot of power.
  • when a major consulting firm created a world-wide BBS, the specialist experts became available to many more people – but that meant the experts would be called upon to do more.
  • even making things more visible, as in the Anderson quote above, means that the people performing the newly-visualized work are now subject to scrutiny – and potential criticism. Nothing destroys my typing accuracy and speed like having someone look over my shoulder!

And of course, the winners may be diffuse — they may not even be present, e.g. customers or generations yet unborn — whereas those who will have to support the change are far more likely to perceive a threat and resist. An extreme example is pollution controls: everybody wins a little bit, but existing polluters get the costs.

The benefits may not be apparent, even to the “winners.”


So what do you do? At a minimum, do a thorough stakeholder analysis: create a balance sheet, tabulate the pluses and minuses for each constituency in open dialog with that constituency, and get buy-in from those whose burdens will increase. Perhaps you’ll need to compensate them in some fashion. Keeping the discussion open removes that vague notion that I’m probably worse off; as usual, good communication drives out bad assumptions, and the assumptions are generally worse than the reality.

Better, take a page from kaizen: empower people to address issues and identify improvements, then support their implementation, including the stakeholder analysis for anyone not actually part of the kaizen team. Contrary to everything I’ve said to this point, people actually like to make changes; they just don’t like being changed.

Or more glibly, it’s more fun to be the hammer than the nail, so encourage people to be hammers!

Change management will transform as you empower and drive out fear, as you make issues more visible, and as the organizational culture shifts toward optimizing the whole.