Why Many Lean Manufacturing, Six Sigma and Other Improvement Initiatives Fail According to BeyondLean.com

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Many Lean Manufacturing or Six Sigma start in a blaze of glory, only to fizzle out within the first six months. This can be avoided, but how many of the people who introduce these initiatives are willing to do what is really required to ensure success?

Despite attempts, most businesses have not been able to capture or sustain the benefits of a lean transformation, according to anaylsis by BeyondLean.com. Lean manufacturing represents a fundamental change and most businesses have pursued change in tactical, rather than a strategic manner. Most failed lean transformations can be attributed to lack of true senior management commitment and understanding of the change process. Moreover, the methodology of many companies is to rely on a series of quick-hit approaches that deliver short term benefits, but aren’t sustainable in the longer term. Add to this the reluctance of many companies to consider the business as a whole rather than just concentrating on operations or manufacturing and you have a recipe for failure.

The ultimate responsibility of the success of ANY change program, whether it is Lean Manufacturing or Six Sigma or any other, falls squarely on the shoulders of the most senior person on site – Not the Change Manager, Change Team, Consultants or anyone else. The Senior Manager is the ‘Change Champion’, whether he accepts this role or not. The speed of success of the change program is directly proportionate to the speed he accepts this responsibility and begins to walk the walk.

The ‘Change Champion’ must change his behaviour in line with the things he is asking the rest of the organisation to do. Failure to do this will result in mistrust and inevitably cause the program to falter and possibly fail.

A common reason for this not happening is that the Change Champion does not know this is the case, or more commonly does not know how to do this and fears admitting it.

So how does he do this?

Firstly, ensure the basics are in place as detailed in the ‘Stability Phase’ of the ‘Standard Business Roadmap’ at http://www.beyondlean.com. A solid Performance Measurement System at shop floor level is one of the key building blocks to any change initiative. This system must have metrics aligned with the company’s long term strategy and site metrics and have clear targets for acceptable performance.

An organisation is a shadow of its leader. It’s up to you as the ‘Change Champion’ to demonstrate the behaviours you wish to see in your organisation. It is not enough to simply talk about them.

More than just anecdotal evidence exists that change initiatives fail more often than they succeed. Since the current business environment warrants these initiatives, why do they fail? The answer is clear. Most change initiatives focus on the operational and technical side. What they too often ignore, or, at best, give lip service to, is the human side-the behavioral side of change. Anyone who has ever attempted to implement a change of any kind has experienced the phenomenon of resistance to change by people and institutions. It is easier to decide on change than to get people to change. People and organizations are creatures of habit, and changing habits is much harder than changing structures or systems.

It seems that organizations, like people, had personalities, and to ignore or not deal with an organization's personality trails could be fatal to your change efforts. Today, people recognize those personality traits as Corporate Culture, and the business world is slowly beginning to appreciate the power of cultural habits. Most change initiatives have at least token elements of "change management."

Unfortunately, most organizations don't address cultural barriers as vigorously or systematically as needed. It has long been known that the only way to ensure the maximum success of any broad-based change initiative is to systematically deal with the corporate culture. To truly change the corporation, you need to change the culture.

The first step of doing this, as the ‘Change Champion’ is to change the way YOU behave, lead by example and SHOW your people HOW you expect them to behave.

If, as the most senior person on site, you are not able or willing to change your behaviour in order to engender the required changes in others and the systems and processes they work with, then think about stepping aside and letting someone take the reins who will.

In any Lean Transformation we have only two options:

Either, change the people or change the people.

For additional information on the Standard Business Roadmap Step by Step Guide referred to in this release, contact Paul Swift, or go to http://www.beyondlean.com

Paul Swift is the principal improvement specialist at Beyondlean and has been improving businesses in a variety of roles for the past 12 years.


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