Process Change – Freeze Dried or Crock Pot?
Did you ever notice that there are many attributes to this thing called “change”. The size of the change, the amounts of different change coming our way, how clearly we can see it coming, whether it is positive or negative, its degree of impact, and so on. One interesting facet to change is the speed with which we make that change.
Some changes such as going from couch potato to physically fit, are kind of like a Kaizen approach to change. Many small, almost imperceptible, changes that stack up over time until you have crossed that threshold of “being fit”. These are like changes that have been slow-cooking in a crock pot in the background. Other changes can be instantaneous - as of precisely 10:02 a.m. GMT this morning, I will no longer be a customer of the XYZ Cable Company. It’s binary – throw a switch and bam – change. Toss that freeze-dried packet of change in the microwave and it is ready to go instantly!
Stick around long enough on this planet and you will experience the “slow cooked” variety of change whether you want to or not – your body ages, prices inch up, tastes in music and fashion evolve, the ecology changes, etc. But, some organizational changes are also of this variety. Changing your corporate culture for example is something that is often best accomplished over time – like turning a battleship around. Other changes in your company may also be of this nature - establishing trust, credibility and a good reputation among your employees and peers, building customer loyalty, building good will in your community, and so on.
Many corporate changes are of the “flash-cut” variety as well - this new policy takes effect today, IT no longer supports this version of the software, your boss has transferred, Customer crises numbers 1-23 require your immediate attention, etc. So much for that to-do list you prepared last night. That bad boy was dead on arrival by the time you took your second sip of coffee. Instead – please enjoy this shovel-full of instant change I just tossed over your cubical wall.
I know – “thanks for the cute analogy but what is my real take-away here?” One lesson is to understand the two types of errors we can make and how to avoid those…
Trying to do a “crock pot” change in a flash-cut manner. Yes, you can attempt to take a 100-year old stuffy corporate culture, turn the company on its ear, and change that culture overnight. Good luck with that. Uninformed people with great intentions (and little patience) tend to first grasp at the physical artifacts of a culture – often to humorous or downright sad results. Starting Monday - gone are the grey suits and ties, stuffy formality and all those strict operational controls. Check out how I removed the doors from your offices – we are hip man! Fifty year old Yale-educated executives in neon board shorts calling each other “dude” accompanied by an assortment of Nerf guns and colorful posters on the wall isn’t a well -orchestrated culture change – it’s a cry for help. Jerking a culture into an uncontrolled 180-spin can kill the engine. While some people, with all good intentions, try to become a modern, innovative firm, they can easily bring the company to its knees operationally and financially. Culture runs deep in companies that have been around for a while - it’s the shared beliefs, behaviors, and assumptions of an organization. It lives in the hearts and minds of the individuals – not on the walls. Some changes work best with a slower approach. We want to avoid the “bends” as the current culture emerges from the bottom of the ocean to surface as a fresh, new culture that will serve the company well going forward. Rx: Understand the current vs. desired beliefs, behaviors, and assumptions and start the crock pot bubbling in the background - while you can change the behaviors quickly, the underlying deeply held beliefs or assumptions need more time to settle in and get rewired in people’s brains.
Type II error: Dragging out a “freeze-dried” instant change. This is the 5-min. change that takes six months to execute. Sometimes you have to know when to just yank the bandage off and move on. These are often the pain points in the office where the staff are all wondering just when the heck this change is going to be made (or worse, the change that has started, stalled mid-change, and we wonder when it will ever end). Sometimes you just have to end the madness, pull that ripcord and make the change. We are surrounded by these daily to the point that there are so many we become numb to them. Look around your house - how many things are there that you know you should do, it’d literally take only a few minutes, but there is always something more pressing to spend your time on. You look up and it’s now 9 months, 18 months later and it’s still not done. Rx: Momentum is vital in this arena. There are so many of these we don’t know where to start. So, start with any one that seems most convenient. Then keep going in the spirit of Kaizen. Can’t make this change because we need 12 people to sign off on it? We don’t meet for another 4 months but once you do it’ll only be a couple minute discussion? Challenge the momentum assumptions -- How about tomorrow we all skype, conference call, text, tweet, twerk or whatever else the kids are doing these days… Draw a line in the sand, commit to get it done by alternate means and put it in the rearview mirror. Trouble getting started? pick one change at random, set out everything you may need to do the change and then commit to just 4 minutes of focused activity on that change. At the end of 4 minutes you can walk away or you can choose to spend more time. At least you have started and broken the hold that gravity had on your change.
As I tell participants in my Lean Six Sigma workshops – if you wanted to nail two boards together you absolutely could do it with a wrench if you were persistent enough. I’d much rather that you grab a hammer. The right tool for the right job. In the case of change, it’s sometimes about the right timeframe for the right type of change. Now if you’ll excuse me – all this talk of crock pots has me hungry… Happy change!