“Management Resistance” or Poor Process?

At leanblog.org, Mark Graban recently posted about the latest State of Lean survey from the LEI. His observation is that the survey seems to be a search-for-blame (looking for the sources of resistance) rather than focused on root cause for the resistance itself. Following a couple of links in that post takes us back a year to his comments on the 2007 survey, and then to an attempt to go through 5 Why’s.

I just took the survey myself, and felt the same way. It is really easy for the “lean guys” to cite “management resistance” as a root cause. Certainly there are instances when local leaders are outwardly hostile or passive-aggressive about the proposed changes. But I’d like to explore this a bit.

Just as it is easy to blame the Team Member’s inattention for an accident or a defect, it is easy to blame leaders for failure to embrace the kaizen culture. In both cases, though, the kaizen culture itself mandates exhausting every other possibility before we shift our focus from “process” to “person” as the problem. And even if “person” ends up in the chain of causes, again, the kaizen culture demands that we ask “Why?” a few more times and try to get to the reasons why a person behaves the way he or she does. Although not put quite in these terms, these are people principles which have been taught since the early 1940’s as part of TWI Job Relations.

Back last July I related a story in “The Chalk Circle – Continued” where the “lean leaders” of a large company were busy blaming management non-involvement for the continuous backsliding we were experiencing. At the end of the story, Dave’s “oh shit” comment sums it up when we realized that the last “Why?” in our chain pointed, not at the leaders, but at us. The way we got there was (by accident) staying on a “process” path in our discussions.

Since then I have learned a few things, but I think the basic message still stands.

First, I’d like to propose to re-frame the problem because I think “leader resistance” is pejorative. I’d like to go through a series of questions. The first is getting a little more clear on what, exactly, we are asking of these leaders. Accepting that the opposite of “resistant” is “engaged” for the purposes of this discussion:

What do “engaged leaders” do?
Without a clear picture in our heads as an answer to this question, we cannot develop effective countermeasures. Honestly, I don’t think there is a strong consensus out there. I can go into why that is, but it is a topic for another (lengthy) post.

Suffice it to say that we need a working definition. I was going to render an opinion here, but I decided instead to drop the question into the LEI site’s forums, and see what others think. (If you are not a member you will have to register first, but that is no big deal.)

You can also leave a comment here.

After I see where people are going, I’ll ask another question.

4 thoughts on ““Management Resistance” or Poor Process?

  1. You asked a very deep question Mark. There is a tool that extremely effective leaders have mastered to acheive success. Most of us don’t understand how and why, but done correctly it can frequently break down the cold brick walls of resistance. That tool is “effective” communication. Anyone can learn it (as I am attempting to do), but it requires a little head scratching about human nature.

    1. Make sure everything you say honors your listener and avoids sandpaper-like attitudes.

    2. When appropriate, appeal to your listeners three greatest internal motivating factors (desire for improvement, fear of failure that your idea affects, and desire for respect)

    3. Follow this outline:

    a. Grab the listener’s attention with as strong
    a hook as you can think of. (Use word to generate pictures in their mind.)

    b. Describe the problems your idea can fix.

    c. Build curiosity frequently to increase your audiences attention span.

    d. Use vivid pictoral words to make your point or proposition clear and unforgettable. Use your idea’s benefits list and predetermined skeptik’s FAQ in forming your presentation.

    e. Use experiences of other credible sources to increase the credibility of your claims.

    f. Respectfully use comparisons to other ideas to exceed people’s expectations.

    g. Quickly summarize your plan for action. Give a risk-reward comparison, a reason to move swiftly, and at last, a call to action.

    I don’t see this done often enough, causing very good ideas and otherwisee possibly effective leaders fall through the cracks or swept under the rug. Just a tidbit you or your readers might consider food for thought.

  2. OK – great summary of basic communication skills. Let me put this to you: Someone could be exhibiting all of these skills and be *very effective* at “management resistance.” (Seen it!)

    So take it to another level. What leadership behaviors make the difference between kaizen improvements taking hold on their own; or kaizen improvements deteriorating?

    Corrie? I imagine you are reading this. What do you think?

  3. Mark,

    In my experience, the rise and fall of kaizen success seems to coincide with the vision, commitment, and level of it’s leadership. From this I can deduce that from the highest position in the company there must be a healthy understanding of kaizen of its principles. If this is not the case, it remains in name only and often a “knee-jerk” reaction (as opposed to actual continuous reduction of departure from the ideal) or it is applied locally to work cells by zealous employees and not to production as a whole.

    Most of us could name many important leadership qualities, but as to ones that encourage kaizen to “take root”, I’m afraid I am drawing a blank. All I can ponder is leadership that builds incentive for acheivement from the bottom up.

    In my own company we seem to have improved quality in certain areas with an “ownership mentality”. I have not discovered what the tangables of that phrase are. It was just recently mentioned. Have you given any more thought to leadership behaviors? Sorta stumped here.

  4. I’m doing a lot of thinking on this topic right now, and would like to share a few thoughts and observations.

    My first observation is that behaviors which received positive reinforcement tend to be repeated until they become a habit (a default pattern of behavior). A corollary observation is that everyone involved in the process (including the managers) have existing habit patterns that do not include the new behaviors.

    Therefore, successful changes must be sufficiently rewarding, prolonged, and repetitive that the associated new behaviors become habits.

    Second, Value Streams appear to have fractal characteristics — similar patterns recur at different levels of observational detail. There’s a natural bias to assume that the map is the territory — that the Value Stream Map is the same as the Value Stream mapped. While this may be mostly true for those people completely inside the mapped Value Stream, the manager who “owns” the Value Stream is part of a larger Value Stream (a higher-level fractal). At that level, the initial Value Stream is competing with multiple other concerns (resources, relationships, and objectives). I think that most “management resistance” can be tracked back to an insufficient application of the WIIFM principle (What’s In It For Me?). This principle of enlightened self-interest appears to drive most behaviors, and may help to explain “management resistance” (i.e., management isn’t resisting the Lean tool, or the improvement, they just haven’t subjectively recognized that the new process is much more rewarding [to their higher-level value stream] than the current process.

    I hope someone wiser can explain this in more depth, to affirm, refine, or reject it.


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