It still surprises me when I hear people say that lean, at least as a concept, brings about negative perceptions and beliefs. I was reminded of this when I recently presented to a school board. During the talk, which covered the basic concepts and value of lean, it became apparent that the board had three separate and distinct reactions to the concepts we were discussing:
- Curiosity: Individuals had heard of or had experience with lean and were eager to learn more, specifically how it might help them increase value to their students, while reducing rapidly increasing overhead costs.
- Disbelief: Individuals who had never heard of lean and were a little skeptical that the concept, and in fact the journey, would actually yield the benefits being suggested.
- Concern: Individuals (fortunately only a few) who were convinced that lean as an idea was something they already embodied and practiced, although in reality it wasn’t. Their concern is often recognized as threat.
It’s the last group, those who share concern, who are the most challenging to engage in the idea of lean, though the reasons for such are often not readily apparent. It was only when one of these “concerned” people spoke up following my talk that it became apparent that his concern was for the general public believing that the entity had not acted in the most efficient and effective way leading up to this point.
These perceptions are a hard nut to crack because “concern” masks emotion, and emotional concerns are deep-rooted concerns.
When emotion is involved, there is a distinct approach that is necessary to break through these concerns and create stronger engagement and commitment.
Seek Cause: Understand that every individual is just that, an individual. His or her perceptions on how changes in philosophy and approach, such as those provided by lean, can often be rooted in personal experiences, stories and interactions. It’s critical that those who show concern for lean are heard for their concerns, with each being addressed carefully. This is not a time to talk over or disregard concerns, but a time to engage in individual discussions to understand what lies at the core of the objection. Understanding cause denotes the most effective means to overcoming objections.
Balance Impact: With the causes for concern uncovered, it’s crucial to recognize impact. One of the individuals at my talk was most concerned about how the general public would perceive them (and the remainder of the board) if inefficiencies were uncovered. This is rooted in a concern for personal reputation. In this instance, I helped the individual realize that the “impact” of dramatically improving the efficiency of the schools operations will put them in a more positive light than they are currently. In effect, understanding impact brings clarity to the significance of the impact and provides the necessary information to either reduce the perceptions of impact or to demonstrate how the impact is lessened by the benefits achieved through the change.
Lean is an emotional journey, one that often begins well before any activities and momentum begin. By dealing with emotions individually, consistently providing substantiated assurances of outcomes and pacing progress, you can overcome objections and move forward in progress.
Shawn Casemore is the president and founder of Casemore and Company, Incorporated, a management consultancy helping organizations globally to improve organizational performance and build financial strength. Learn more at www.casemoreandco.com or follow Casemore on Twitter @ShawnCasemore.