Change tools: stapler or loom?

Jeff Cole

Photo by jose aljovin on Unsplash

Have you ever seen this (certainly not in your area, but perhaps in that nasty department down the hall) - where the same problem is solved multiple times? For whatever reason, we didn’t make the change that permanently fixed the situation.   

In Lean Six Sigma we teach this: if a weed grows up in your yard and you cut it off at lawn level, what happens to it? It grows right back and sometimes it’s meaner and stronger and may even bring friends! You have to get down to that tap root – the true root cause of a problem and turn it off so that problem goes away for good.

It almost seems as if humans are genetically encoded to go right from problem to solution without due diligence in finding the root cause. We love fast closure and are often rewarded in our careers for making quick results. The fact that a manager’s whole process change blows apart after 6 months is irrelevant because by then they have rotated out to another department to pollenate it with more short-term fixes that address only symptoms and not true root causes. That trail of toxic thinking and destruction has cut a wide path throughout industry in years past.

Step one for all of us is to ensure we use appropriate rigor to find and fix the true root cause of a problem. But then, we have another issue: if the humans who need to follow our new process don’t do so, we’ve wasted our time and money. We have a true fix, but need to get people solidly engaged. This is where amateurs differ from the pros. Amateurs reach for the stapler, and pros set up the loom.

Step two is managing change. Using a solid change management approach is vital for process improvement success. However, some people (often the same who love short term symptom fixes) simply staple change management onto the back end of a process improvement. Then, when the organization hits their first bump in the road, the change flies away like a burger wrapper down the highway. It’s like hitting the Reset button on a process improvement – again and again. Just sending out an email blast about the change, or assuming everyone will do the right thing and adopt the process are several of many stapler tactics.

Change pros reach for the loom. They weave their process changes into the fabric that is the dna of the organization. Like an old-time operator switchboard, they plug it into every appropriate component to ensure success. Pick that organization up and shake it all you want, the change will not fly away. It is solidly infused into the way the organization does things. Think about how you can weave your change into all the important touch points:  communication systems, management reports, performance objectives, strategic or tactical plans, daily to-do lists, onboarding materials, SOPs, training, agenda topics, and so on.  

Solid root cause fix and solid change management = process success. Simple as that – will investing a little time up front to plan and execute the change properly take some time? You bet. But while it may slow you down a little up front, it allows you to go farther faster in the long term.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to grab a frosty ale and head out to the garage to do some preventive maintenance on my loom. Happy change!