Ouch! Change Hurts

There’s an interesting article titled The Neuroscience of Leadership in Strategy+Business magazine. Thanks to Kathleen Fasanella for spotting and writing about it on her Fashion Incubator blog.

The article has a tempting tagline Breakthroughs in brain research explain how to make organizational transformation succeed.

Surprisingly, no exclamation marks. What follows is very informative but borders on psychobabble at times and on reductionism at others. The authors work to answer the question of Mike, multinational Pharmaceutical CEO, “Why do people resist change so stubbornly, even when it’s in their own interest?” It makes me wonder when their best-selling business book is coming out.

Granted, I’ve found many of the observed behaviors mentioned in the article to be true. For instance, when teaching people, it is important to let them come to the insight on their own rather than telling them. The article says:

For insights to be useful, they need to be generated from within, not given to individuals as conclusions. This is true for several reasons. First, people will experience the adrenaline-like rush of insight only if they go through the process of making connections themselves.

More than once I’ve seen the best intentions result in tension during Lean implementations. The tension is between managers who want results right now, Lean specialist who “know” the solution and want to change things right now, consultants who need to prove their worth and want to change things right now, and the workers themselves (ouch! change hurts) who haven’t completely bought in or “got it” yet.

If you want a true lasting culture change, understand that Lean transformation is not something that takes weeks or months but is a never-ending management of the pain that is change. This doesn’t mean Lean manufacturing won’t get you big results in days or weeks. It will. The problem is those results will walk out the door with you when you find another job, if the culture hasn’t changed. Culture change requires the light bulb glowing above everyone’s head, and this is the “adrenaline rush of insight” people have when making the connection or solving the problem themselves. Some call it thinking.

Here’s another insight from the article: follow up coaching and practice after initial training improves performance.

A 1997 study of 31 public-sector managers by Baruch College researchers Gerald Olivero, K. Denise Bane, and Richard E. Kopelman found that a training program alone increased productivity 28 percent, but the addition of follow-up coaching to the training increased productivity 88 percent.

More than anything it blows my mind that research funds were spent on proving this.

The article is worth reading if you are interested in both change management and neuroscience. If it’s been a while since you’ve seen the words basal ganglia, amygdala and quantitative electroencephalography used correctly in a sentence, dive into these 5,300 words. If not, allow me summarize the main points in 15 words:

Change hurts. People change when ready. Ask don’t tell. Pay attention. Expect good things. Practice.

I suppose if you didn’t learn these lessons between your kindergarten teacher and your high school football coach (or equivalent) then the neuroscience explanation might still help you.

One of the true geniuses of the Toyota Production System is their insistence on asking people to think about their work and to come up with improvement ideas. Called the Creative Idea Suggestion System, this approach generates about one implemented improvement idea per person per month, year after year. This has the effect of giving people the jolt of satisfaction at solving a problem (the authors’ point about mental models and self-generated insight) while expecting change to happen around them (expectation shapes reality), as well as getting people to pay attention to their work. Not bad for a product of 1950s motivational theory.

It’s safe to say that complacency is the enemy of kaizen. Dr. Deming said it another way: “It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.”
Complacency is a fact of human neuroscience. If you believe this, it will be true.

2 Comments

  1. Fred Thomas

    April 14, 2010 - 8:53 am

    “One of the true geniuses of the Toyota Production System is their insistence on asking people to think about their work and to come up with improvement ideas.”
    Was it “true genius” for Toyota to ignore the letter of Tadao Wakatsuki and other manufacturing employees, detailing the safety corners that Toyota was cutting? Perhaps Toyota (and Toyoda) were taking Deming a little too seriously when he said that survival is not mandatory.
    “Lean specialist who “know” the solution and want to change things right now….and the workers themselves (ouch! change hurts) who haven’t completely bought in or “got it” yet.” –May it be politely suggested that sometimes the workers, who actually do the job, occasionally know more about how to do it than the “lean” people, who typically have never worked a manufacturing job in their lives?

  2. Jon Miller

    April 15, 2010 - 11:36 am

    Hi Fred
    It was arrogance, not genius. The two are related.
    I wholeheartedly accept your polite suggestion.