Strikingly Powerful Transitions to Lean

G U E S T  A R T I C L E

[sm_smlts_dropcap type=”rounded-with-ring” color=”pink”]T[/sm_smlts_dropcap]he most effective Lean professionals realize their main job is not to educate in Lean, but rather to affect actual change in their clients. Yet even many of those treat change as if it is a thing to be managed in and of itself. Maybe it sounds sophisticated to use complicated words and models, like you have to “enlist a core change team” and “motivate and communicate” in order to “create a sense of urgency.” But if you’re wanting to change your diet in order to become more healthy, making a big deal out of “the change model” you’re going to be using, is just adding another layer of complexity. And in the world of Lean transformation, complexity is your enemy.

You Can’t Make Another Person Change, And Luckily You Don’t Have To

If you’re serious about helping organizations transition to Lean thinking, take heed – you’re about to learn something really easy, but strikingly powerful. Yes, your job as a Lean coach is about getting people to change, and it is very important to know that you do not have the ability to make any single other person change. Only the other person can do that. And the moment you start pointing out that “there’s a big change necessary,” you’ve already created a wall of resistance in many of the people you’re wanting to influence the most. Why do that to yourself? Why point at the very thing everyone is afraid of?

You’re Touching Highly Successful Executives Who Are Excellent Autocrats, So What You Do and When You Do It, Is Essential

Elegant change-work typically ends up in people not even realizing they’ve changed. In fact, the better you are, the less you’ll be given credit for the change (which is why you never want to “get paid for the results,” but that’s a topic for another time). If you want to lead an organizational transformation as broad as Lean management, doing it nearly invisibly will yield the best results for you, and simultaneously provide you with the professional reputation that will make you the most sought out Lean expert in your industry.

In Elegant Change-Work People Don’t Even Realize They’ve Changed

Mind you, this is not to say that your job as a change agent is easy. It is not. You’re trying to get someone who “swam in the energy” of a system that required them to be an autocrat – a system where they established objectives and did whatever it took to achieve the desired results.

Sometimes “whatever it took” even actually hurt the overall company (like laying off good people because quarterly sales are down, ONLY hiring “the best of the best” rather than developing excellence in people, closing perfectly good facilities that a Lean thinker would turn around, acquiring and merging with the wrong companies – which almost all of them are, squeezing suppliers, cutting budgets to zero, etc. etc.)

It’s a system where it is management’s job to determine “The Way” to do the job, and to make sure all workers execute the plan that management designs. A system where workers are nothing more than cogs in a wheel who’s thinking skills are not considered necessary, let alone welcomed. And to top it all off, that leader is really good at it or they wouldn’t be in a position to lead that system. Initiating change here is a tall order for any Lean professional to fulfill!

And in case that’s not challenging enough, the change you’re moving them toward is almost an exact opposite. You want them to stop doing ALL of that and start managing by process, literally prompting front line workers to improve their own processes using plan-do-check-act cycles. You’re asking them to stop telling people what to do, and to begin coaching employees to be partners in improvement, to engage everybodys’ brain and to identify and solve problems for themselves. And you’re asking them to stop solving problems themselves (THE most difficult thing for them to change); to spend their time at the place of work instead of sitting in their offices, all the while mentoring, facilitating, and enabling each person to see waste and remove it. Again, that’s a pretty big shift for anyone, and most definitely a tall order for you. Luckily there are smooth, elegant ways to get there, and you’re about learn a really good one.

Enter the Lean Transformation Ladder

So how can you create this “invisible, elegant change-work” that leaves people wondering how they got here, before they’ve even had a chance to question what is happening? The answer is to know the pattern that people undergo anytime they change, so that you can accurately identify where they are in the process, and in turn know what to do (and what not to do) at the right moments. In the absence of this knowledge, you are just poking around in the dark when it comes to leading and guiding your clients through the paradigm shift that is Lean management.

Before you get into this extremely powerful method for extracting change from your clients, please know that what you’re about to learn is supported by one of Stanford’s finest professors, Albert Bandura. Bandura combined cognitive psychology with principles of behaviorism to produce a model anyone can replicate over and over again, as it relates to human beings changing. You are about to learn how to apply that model to the transformation that is required when leaders move from command & control to Lean.

Bandura found that as people’s expectation levels rise in regard to a task, their performance also starts increasing, but it usually lags slightly behind the expectations. That means that you have to confidently create a future success for your clients, so that they have expectations of succeeding. Perhaps you can see now why you don’t want to hike the “change model cuz change is really hard” wall in the beginning (or at any other time).

As People’s Expectation Levels Rise, Their Performance Goes Up

The next stage happens when people start to form expectations about the rate of change they should be able to sustain. At this point, performance typically starts to lag behind the expected rate of improvement. Note that this is not related to how high you have set the expectation. Regardless of what the expectation is, the performance usually lags, so you may as well set the expectation really high.

What is happening is that your client has reached the point of their “unconscious competence,” the limit of their skill at that time. At this stage, their expectations start to surpass their ability to perform – not just lag behind their expectation, but actually exceed their capabilities. Interestingly, most people don’t necessarily compare their present performance to what they used to do, they typically compare it to what they expect to do.

Two things stand out here. One, you as the coach CAN set the expectation high. Just as in the placebo effect, the higher their expectation, the higher their performance. And that’s something that you as a coach, can and ought to control tightly. Two, as stated, their performance will at some point be hindered by their lack of knowledge, and that is when you have to intervene with the right coaching.

Most People Don’t Compare Present Performance To What They Used To Do, They Compare It To What They Expect To Do

At this phase, the amount of difference between expectation and their actual behavior will be greater than at the start. Usually, this is when people begin to feel like they are doing “worse now than at the beginning.” This discrepancy between expected performance and actual performance creates the beginning of a crisis, one that you MUST address if you are to be successful as a Lean transformation coach.

Note the Competence Scale at the Bottom, Going from One to the Other

The limit of present capability is where you need to coach the client on new skills, since this is usually the point where people often give up or lower their expectations. As you can see, a large part of your job is to manage the expectations of your clients. Having done that, what you’ve taught them and guided them through to get here, has only been enough to get them over the initial plateau but it is not enough to keep them progressing beyond here. Now a different set of capabilities needs to be activated before they can achieve the next stage of Lean thinking.

Think about it – if you’re learning to type, once you’ve learned to type single letters, you’ll be stuck until you actually learn to type entire words. Skilled typists have learned to type certain words in a single movement, because they’ve coded material to be typed as bigger chunks. You’ve led your client to this point by getting them to break up their old patterns and replacing them with the very minimum changes they’ve been able to sustain, and now it’s time to move them to a higher level of thinking.

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In a typical case of successful transformation, your client reaches a plateau, struggles a little through the trial and error process of letting go of the command & control thinking that has been successful up to that point (one belief at a time), and on to more sophisticated principles of Lean thinking that will take them to the next level of skill.

This is Your Most Critical Role As the Transformation Architect

When they are able to make it through this period of struggle, what you coach them on next can fall into place, and there is substantial improvement in their performance. Your client experiences a sense of satisfaction and success as performance comes back into line with expectations.

Of course this new strategy brings with it a whole new level of “unconscious competence” waiting to be released anew, and the expectation-performance cycle begins again. What you are doing is breaking up the old pattern and replacing it with a new one. And it’s not just a one time event. You have to do that several times, which is why it’s important to know when the right time to do that is.

You Are Breaking Up Old Patterns & Replacing Them With New Ones

Luckily, things begin to get easier as you move your client further down the road, just as typists require less effort going from typing 35 words per minute to 70, than they needed to get up to 35 wpm in the beginning. This principle is very important to keep in mind when managing clients through a Lean transformation.

The greatest challenge you face occurs while waiting for the new level of synthesis to occur. It is at this point that you are attempting to install a new strategy, typically while they may be flustered by their own trial and error learning. Often this leads to a type of regression or relapse.

Your Greatest Risk: When Performance is Furthest Away From Expected Results

You have to be cognizant of the fact that this relapse does not mean a person is failing, though it may seem that way – not only are they not getting better, they are getting worse. And that can play havoc on their expectations, unless you are there to guide them through the storm in a calm, confident manner. At this point, the person has become “consciously incompetent.” Clearly this is a very important time, because the person may become deeply disheartened, give up, and go into a full regression. Knowing what is happening and when to do what, is critical here. Luckily, there are easy-to-spot signs that let you know what to look for.


Continued in Part II. I finish this piece in my next post, but if you are interested in this kind of advanced thinking about Lean transformation, stay tuned. I am about to open a coaching consortium for Lean experts, which will delve deeply into this exact type of change-work, and the successes my teams have achieved using it. What we won’t be doing is trite cheerleading about why Lean is the way, or blaming leadership for not “leading the transformation.” Look for the link in my next few articles. Click Here for Part II.

About the author:

Jim Hudson

Jim Hudson is founder of the Lean Expert Academy, past partner in the Lean Leadership Institute with Jeff Liker (The Toyota Way), and author of the soon to be released book, Lea(R)n Thinking. Jim is also the CEO of a Lean consulting company where he trains Lean consultants to implement the exact methodology and techniques that you are reading about here. Sign up for our blog to make sure you get notified the next time a post is released. View Jim’s full profile at Linkedin.

This article has been reproduced here with permission from the author. Pictures and representations from the original article have been removed (copyright) and available on the source website. Title picture is not associated with the original writing.


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