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Learn a Trick or Two

By Ron Crabtree, CIRM, CSCP, MLSSBB | March/April 2013 | 23 | 2

Teaching resisters to embrace change

One of the goals of this department is to demonstrate how applying the tools of lean six sigma and operational excellence can help solve underlying business problems and realize better system performance. However, success in transformation is not just about learning the tools. Success often requires individuals to adapt to new practices and modes of thinking. Unfortunately, the old guard is not always prepared to embrace change. How can we go about getting these individuals to go along with—if not embrace—the changes we need to make to remain competitive?

We recently had this same issue with our old dog. You might think that’s an unnecessarily cruel characterization, but Maggie is, in fact, an old dog. When she was younger, we put her through her own version of new-employee training. Over her first few years, she steadily learned and mastered more than 30 different tricks, including break dancing and dropping dead at the sound of a bang. However, that was a long time ago. Recently, my mother-in-law issued me a challenge: Teach Maggie how to “go hide” by finding a hiding place at my command. 

A little patience
At your company, in order to teach something new to your established employees, you need to acknowledge there is a process, recognize it takes time, and commit to enacting and reinforcing best practices. For the resisters, there must be clear and compelling reasons to adopt operational excellence practices and go after business waste. In the business world, professionals might be made to understand the pressure from customers to reduce costs and improve performance. Some workers respond to motivations such as reducing stress or boosting morale. The prime takeaway is to create discomfort with the current state and offer a future state that’s more compelling.

A personal case should be made for each stakeholder affected by the changes. You must be able to answer the question, “What’s in it for me?” Avoid offering money in exchange for cooperation. People quickly see through this. Instead, examine what intangible rewards might be able to make changes more appealing. Perhaps resisters can become more involved in decision making or be given more agency to fix the problems that annoy them most. The better you can identify what’s in it for them, the easier it is to attain buy-in.

You also must be patient and consistent with those experienced workers in your organization who may, initially, be resisters. It may take time and on-the-job practice before they can put new skills to work. Involve your people in planning and implementing the changes as much as possible. Train properly, positively reinforce skills and good behaviors, and follow up until the new skills have become part of the company culture and the way of doing business. 

Author's note: With a great deal of patience, several days of work, and about 50 repetitions, Maggie now will “go hide” quite creatively on command.

Ron Crabtree, CIRM, CSCP, MLSSBB, is president of MetaOps and has authored or coauthored five books on operational excellence. He also coauthors an online magazine, hosts online radio shows, teaches, presents, and consults. He may be contacted at

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