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Sustaining Improvements: Self-Governance vs. Policing May 21, 2014

Posted by Tim Rodgers in Management & leadership, Organizational dynamics, Process engineering.
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Last month I listened to a presentation about an implementation of 5S methodology at a local company. The work group spent a lot of time cleaning up, installing shadow boxes to keep their tools in order, and getting rid of unused equipment that was stored in the workplace. The before-and-after photos showed a lot of improvement, and it certainly looked like a successful initiative.

The last slide in the presentation described this company’s efforts to “Sustain,” the 5th S. The speaker reported that there was some initial enthusiasm for the changes, but unfortunately it seems that within a short period of time people started to fall back to their old ways of casual disorganization. Sustaining the improvement apparently required periodic audits and reminders, and I’m guessing that this company’s management is wondering why the team couldn’t stick with it on their own.

This is a common complaint in many process improvement efforts, and one of the most-frequent reasons why these efforts fail. Unless the target group acknowledges and appreciates the benefits of the improvement, and therefore are committed to maintain the improvement, it’s more likely that they will revert to the old ways of doing things. Unfortunately change management leaders sometimes neglect to gain the support of the target group, or impose a solution to a problem that hasn’t been recognized. This is especially true for changes that are significantly different or “unnatural,” where the work habits and skepticism of the team provide resistance.

It’s far more effective for teams to monitor their own implementation and maintenance of the change instead of relying on audits or management oversight to make sure everyone is now “doing it right.” Self-governance requires buy-in, but it also means that the change is really an improvement with clear benefits.

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