Traditional change models
Kurt Lewin has devised a change model known as “unfreeze-change-freeze“: clever as it is (by highlighting the fact that before changing, there’s a necessary step required to unlock the current status quo), it may not be quite adapted to Lean management as people need to indeed be in constant change when doing Lean and constantly identify new ways of improving things: so the “freeze” part is not what is expected from people in a Lean environment. Initiating a change approach would mean to start to “unfreeze-change-change-change-change-…” or, as most Lean expert would tell you: “unfreeze-change-unfreeze-change-unfreeze-change-…”
The ADKAR model of change is better to this respect because it insists on the need to reinforce the new behavior. Yet, the aspect of diffusing the change throughout the company where it could apply (process known in Lean under the name “yokoten“) and constantly improving upon it (through constant change to the “standard”) is not addressed.
Underlying mental models
There has been some implicit mental models at play in these two kind of change models (other change models feature the same underlying mental models):
- that you can decide of a change and impose it on collaborators (lack of respect for people) or worse, on a system (worse because the system will resist it) – the Lewin model may be the worst with this respect;
- that you can invest in the change and once it’s done, you can move on to something else: some change models even advocate for burning the bridges to move back to before (again, flagrant lack of respect for people).
- and, worse of all (in my mind at least!) that people are dumbly resistant to any change.
For this last point, the ADKAR model tries to address this by Describing the change to impacted people: better than nothing, but still a form of coercion (or intellectual extorsion).
Changing one’s own mental models about change
When you get rid of clinging to these mental bonds, you can discover a whole new world where people are indeed attracted to change, provided it helps them and their customers. The key word here may well be “and“. Moreover, to ensure that the change is indeed what is really needed, management also has to get rid of its role of general problem solver in place of collaborators: that just removes the fun out of the work from those doing it and deprives them from any intellectual challenge, again, a lack of respect of people.
In this sense, Lean is very postmodern in its approach to change in that it moves well away from Taylorism and gives back the key to change to the very people doing the work. Even the need to change is given back to collaborators: one would not change something that needn’t; again, only those doing the work can decide about the necessity to change. I’d even dare to say that Lean may well be post-postmodern in its approach to collaborators and change in that it just doesn’t move from a blissful consideration of collaborators (as I’m sure some see postmodernism in organizations) but keeps the link with the modern approach and use of the scientific method (through the rigorous use of Plan-Do-Check-Act and fact based approach to improvements). A very nice blend of modernism and post-modernism.
What’s required for postmodern changes
Last point, this new way of seeing change is very different in that it requires constant monitoring of the need to change and the application of the scientific method to assess the effect of current change. And, the big learning here is: without constant investment in continuous improvement, it just won’t be… well continuous. That means that management, at all levels of the organization, needs to constantly invest time and efforts in challenging current status quo and encourages their collaborators to look for the need to change and what to change to, for the triple benefit of the customers, themselves and the company (a result of the two preceding benefits).
If one would look to the (unactionable) root cause of inertia, it would probably be found in the “bounded rationality” of human mind. Yet, knowing this, one has to constantly invest in fighting it, using the most intelligent means for that: constant monitoring of the environment and whether the organization is well adapted to it and, counterpart, whether it needs to change to adapt to it or not. By now, you’ve probably see where I end up: with the concept of requisite variety and the proper design of viable organizations. Topic for another article…
Some old wise man said that’s it’s a shame to see so many people wanting others to change and so few willing to change themselves. Gandhi himself told us that we need to be the change we want to see in the world.
Managers need to embody the change they want to see in their teams. First.