Often when learning about Deming’s ideas on management, lean manufacturing, design of experiments, PDSA… people become excited. They discover new ideas that show great promise to alleviate the troubles they have in their workplace and lead them to better results. But how to actually get their organization to adopt the ideas often confounds them. In fact, I believe most potential improvements efforts may well fail even before they start because people can’t get past this problem.
I believe the way to encourage adoption of management improvement tools, methods and ideas is to solve people’s problems (or give them new opportunities). Instead of trying to convince people by talking about why they need to adopt some new ideas, I think it is much better to show them. To encourage the adoption of whatever it is (a philosophy like Deming or a new tool) try to find projects that would be good candidates for visible success. And then build on those successes.
For adopting whole new ways of working (like lean thinking) you go through this process many times, adding more and more new ideas to the accepted way of doing things. It is a bit easier if you are the CEO, but I think the strategy is very similar whoever you are. For smaller efforts a boss can often just mandate it. But for something like a large improvement in the way work is done (adopting a lean management system, for example), the challenge is the same. You have to convince people that the new methods and ideas are valuable and that they can use the ideas to help improve results.
Start small, it is very helpful if initial efforts are fairly small and straight forward. You often will have limited resources (and limited time people are willing to invest) at first. so start by picking projects that can be accomplished easily and once people have seen success more resources (including what is normally the most important one – people’s time) should be available. Though, honestly getting people to commit will likely be a challenge for a long time.
It is a rare organization that adopts a continual improvement, long term focus, system thinking mindset initially. The tendency is often strong to focus on fire fighting, fear (am I taking a risk by doing x, if I spend time improving y – what about the monthly target my boss is measuring me on…) and maintaining the status quo. It is baffling to many hoping for improvement, when you have huge successes, and yet the old way of doing things retains a great hold. The inertia of organizations is huge.
Another key is to, target what people actually care about. Solving some problem no-one cares about (even if it is good) doesn’t help much in gaining support.
Target who you are trying to convince. If you want to convince executives to do more, then target them. If you want to convince front line workers to adopt the new ideas, target things that they care about. For large changes, you normally target multiple groups. Take care that you progress sensibly. What sensibly is, depends on the situation. Often you can target more than one group at once with the same effort (efforts that multiple targets care about, and will notice, should get priority).
If you decide we really need to get the executives on board first, then target them first. Or if you decide you need to target 3 different groups take care as you proceed that you are doing so and are not ignoring one group. Adjust as you gain more knowledge (you may decide to change your strategy). Normally I think a broad based strategy is better. And even if you are targeted at first I think broadening the adoption quickly is best (for a systemic change – one of the nice things about adopting tools is it is very easy to do in a piecemeal way).
It is baffling to me how slowly changes are adopted, but I have come to accept, the normal process, is to hold to the old ways far longer than seems rational. It is a mistake to assume what seem like obvious connections between improved results and the changes would be obvious to everyone. Often people don’t connect the improved results to the improved practices, which can be a problem if then the improved methods are not valued by the organization.