Ok, you as Organization Head decided to go for improvement projects. So what will be your biggest challenge in the success of this project? Is it identifying improvement opportunities, influencing stakeholders, subordinates to accept, getting the right resources to execute the project, expected ROI? From our experience, it is none of those. What we have consistently seen in our work is the foremost challenges organizations face when they want to go with Lean & Six-Sigma is in changing behavior of their employees to accept new ways of working. Continuous improvement programs are not a one-time event. It requires the significant change in practices of employees who follow and has to drive from the top leadership. But just exercising command- control or authoritative leadership won’t help in changing behavior.
Can we learn from other fields such as Healthcare or Environmental psychology about behavior change? I would like to explain same here, as a large number of interventions, are based on attitude models such as the Theory of planned behavior.
This model suggests that intentional behaviors are influenced by attitudes towards that behavior, perceived subjective norms (what others think) and perceptions of behavioral control. The assumption is that making improvements in everyday behaviors are voluntary, planned behaviors and that providing employees with the right kind of information will allow them to make more informed (i.e. more sustainable) choices.
But, there is a range of reasons why employees may not act upon their attitudes even though they have the required kind information. Let us explore the idea that behavior change is a process, not an event. Changing behavior, even under ideal circumstances, may require more effort than is often presumed. One factor that plays a significant role is the habit. Many of the things we do, we do without thinking. When we start looking for improvements, we rarely look things which are set and working for many years. It is not until we find some customer starts reporting issues that we (have to) consider alternatives on how to add more quality checks, an additional process for reviews etc. With repetition and a stable context, habits can develop. When behavior is habitual it takes place without much thinking or conscious planning, and in this case information provision about best practices is relatively pointless. Behavior change interventions are likely effective when organizations go through a major change such as loss of big customer, huge demand drop or increased competition. These new situations make it necessary to reconsider the existing choices. Moreover, in such situations, employees are more likely to act in line with important values.
Behaviour change is a process
The stages of change model (more commonly employed in health psychology), may be useful to help tackle continuous improvement projects in the organization. Let us explore how this model can be used in organizations. According to this model, change is not an event but a process where people move through different stages.
Different interventions are needed for people in different stages, and without significant intervention, people can move not only towards maintenance but also in the opposite direction. Raising awareness of the operational costs, losing to competitors or to becoming N0.1 organization may help move employees from pre-contemplation to contemplation.
So to initiate a continuous improvement in the organization, you have to start the process with 5 steps
Pre-Contemplation: Organizations at this stage do not intend to start the change in the near future, and may be unaware of the need to change. Organizations or employees here learn more about new practices: they are encouraged to think about the pros of changing their old practices and to feel emotions about the effects of their negative effects on the organization. This is the stage where you have to sit with the audience and contemplate on why the change or improvement is necessary. If this is not bought by everyone involved, it is very difficult to move to the next stage.
Contemplation: At this stage, participants are intending to start the best practices. While they are now usually more aware of the pros of changing, their cons are about equal to their Pros. This ambivalence about changing can cause them to keep putting off taking action. Employees here learn about the kind of person or organization they could build or effects it will bring if they follow best practices and learn more from employees who are doing in new ways. Others can influence and help effectively at this stage by encouraging them to work at reducing the bad practices. Here at this stage, you are evaluating different options and decide on what is the best way to change. You as a leader along with many of your key subordinates consider the changes.
Ready to Taking Action: Employees at this stage are ready to start taking action soon. They take small steps that they believe can help them make the better workplace. For example, they tell their co-workers and team members that how the new changes are helping to improve. Employees at this stage should be encouraged to seek support from managers, team members they trust. Their number one concern is: when they act, will they fail? They learn that the better prepared they are, the more likely they are to keep progressing. You as a leader have to identify key steps required for change and incorporate the same and positively influence the team.
Action: Employees at this stage have already incorporated new practices and working on a new methodology. They need to keep working to move ahead. These participants need to learn how to strengthen their commitment to change and to fight urges to revert to old habits. Employees in this stage progress by being taught techniques for keeping up their commitments such as substituting activities related to the bad practices with best practices, rewarding them for taking steps toward changing. As a Leader, you have to reward employees who are advancing in this stage and motivate others to join.
Maintenance (monitoring): Employees at this stage have accepted new practices. It is important at this stage to be aware of situations that may tempt them to old practices into doing the particularly stressful situations. Need to develop tools and technique and proper feedback mechanism which prevents older practices and rewards the best practices.
Finally, Continuous Improvement projects require a longer term vision and it is not a onetime event. Behavior change of employees is an important aspect of this process. The good news is ones successfully adopted, the rewards are long lasting. Your comments are always welcome.
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