This week I was reminded of some advice I received from a Japanese sensei early in my Lean career.
We were working together in an organization that had just embarked on the Lean journey. The organization had developed a communication program to inform the associates of the changes and to how they and the company would benefit.
They were about 3 months into the effort when the Japanese sensei and I sat down to meet with the Plant Manager. The plant manager shared his frustration with the progress he was having getting his associates to accept the change…he proceeded to tell us that the employees fell into 3 categories:
- Sold – these associates got into the boat immediately and were ready to get on with the journey
- Interested – these associates were interested but a bit unsure…they put one foot into the boat, but kept the other on the shore.
- Resistant – these associates won’t get off the shore and have made it clear that they have NO interest in going on the journey.
He went on to tell us all of the things that he and others had done to convince the resisters to get in the boat. He said he was exhausted by the effort and frustrated that he was not able to make much progress.
After hearing this story, the Japanese sensei said, “You have to forget about those on the shore, you are concentrating too much on them”. The ones you need to put your energy into are those that are half in and half out of the boat. These individuals have indicated an interest in the journey, these are the individuals you must spend time convincing. By showering the resistant ones with your time and attention, you are sending a message to the others that it might be better to stay on shore. Focus on those that are half in and half out of the boat. Convince them to get all in; in the process some of the resisters may be also be convinced, but if not, you must leave them on the shore.”
We as managers spend too much time banging our heads against the wall as we work to convince associates that implementing Lean techniques will benefit them as well as the organization. Unfortunately, there will be those that remain unconvinced no matter what hoops we jump through to show/tell them. As the Japanese sensei suggested, there are those you will have to leave behind on the shore. This is one of the most difficult things a manager has to do, but in the end, it is the right thing for the individual and the organization. Once ties have been severed, the individual can move on to an organization where they feel less threatened and your organization can sail forward on the journey to success.