10 tips to reduce change resistance when introducing lean manufacturing

If you’re thinking of introducing lean manufacturing on the shop floor you may have noticed that some production employees are hesitant to shift their habits. For example, they may say that their way of doing things has always generated good results or that the proposed modifications don’t apply to their current situation. Rest assured, your predicament is common. Most businesses in the manufacturing sector have faced this problem at one time or another. Thankfully, there are many methods to overcome resistance to change.

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

1 – Explain the reasons behind the change

Begin by stating the motive(s) for the transition to your team. Some ideas could be to be more competitive, to face growing demand or to serve your customers better. However, avoid basing your explanations solely on profitability. If the proposed changes are purely for financial reasons, you risk not getting everyone on board.

2 – Call upon an external training facilitator

Before beginning the Lean training process, plan to have the appropriate resources. Smaller businesses often retain the services of an external instructor. In the eyes of the staff, he can lend credibility to the process thanks to his professional expertise.

If you do use an external consultant, be sure the person overseeing the Lean process within your organization (the Lean sensei) works with the trainer to provide insight into the company’s situation. The sensei can also guide the consultant’s presentation and play a part in the discussions.

3 – Provide Basic Lean training to all personnel

Flexpipe assist to a training while visiting an Adidas Plant in China.
Flexpipe assist to training while visiting an Adidas Plant in China.

 

Before engaging in Lean practices, your employees will need to receive basic training on the Lean culture to understand it and speak its unique language. At the end of the process, they should be familiar with founding principles such as 5S and various types of wastes, and knowing what added value does and doesn’t consist of.

To win over those who are most reticent, trainers can show testimonials, pictures and videos of companies who have gone through Lean changes. Doing so is a lighter and more user-friendly means of convincing instead of text-heavy presentations that don’t always engage those in attendance.

4 – Visit other plants and speak with their employees

Flexpipe visited Lumenpulse in Longueil, Québec.
Flexpipe visited Lumenpulse in Longueil, Québec.

 

Flexpipe visited Lumenpulse in Longueil, Québec.
Flexpipe visited Lumenpulse in Longueil, Québec.

To convince employees of the benefits of the upcoming changes, suggest that they visit non-competitive plants, which recently undertook the same process as yours. If there is no one you can contact, search on LinkedIn or call organizations that do tours in Lean facilities, such as the Association for Manufacturing Excellence, the Gemba Academy, the Lean Enterprise Institute or the Mouvement Québécois de la qualité.

While it may be challenging to get employees on-site, those who do go will become your most valued spokespeople. Why? Because they will have seen the transformation for themselves and, most importantly, talked with employees who carry out similar tasks. The latter will be able to explain how they experienced the change and the advantages of working in a Lean environment. Such discussions can reassure those who are particularly hesitant regarding the proposed adjustments.

Our team at Flexpipe recently toured the BRP snowmobile plant. After the visit, our 5 production team leaders exclaimed, “Wow, the production floor is open, airy and clean. We would love to work in an environment like this.”

5 – Start with small, simple changes

Employees are showing their simple and resourceful self-constructed Shadow Board
Employees are showing their simple and resourceful self-constructed Shadow Board

To show the physical benefits of the ongoing change, choose a high-visibility work cell which will serve as a model. This space will be the designated location to implement your first projects.

Avoid beginning with lengthy, costly and complicated undertakings. Instead, make small tweaks with a big payoff, such as improving a substandard workstation. Once you’ve finished your first project, ask your employees to examine the issue that has been solved—they’ll have the proof right before their eyes.

Starting small means you’ll be able to show the results to your team quickly and reduce the risk of failure.

6 – Ask employees to pitch ideas

Improvement Submission Board at Flexpipe.
Improvement Submission Board at Flexpipe.

 

Improvement Submissions with a visual explanation
Improvement Submissions with a visual explanation.

Getting employees involved is the surest way to overcome resistance to change—even if you provide Lean training. You will need to make them understand that the ownership of the transformations doesn’t solely rely on 1 or 2 people; instead, it’s company-wide ownership. That way, a Lean culture will permeate all echelons of the business.

One of the best ways to have team members participate in the transition is to gather their ideas by using a suggestion box or board. Your supervisors and those spearheading the improvement process can also help employees make recommendations on an ongoing basis.

Responding to all suggestions quickly is a solid approach to show that you open to change and innovation.

7 – Encourage employees to plan the entire project

While having ideas is undoubtedly a good thing, it’s even better to explore them. Encourage employees to lend a hand in crafting the solution by having them sketch out a problematic element in their environment and what could correct it.

If needed, the person leading the improvement process can help the staff realize and refine their ideas. Additionally, he could suggest a brainstorm session among team members to generate further options.

8 – Ask employees to help implement an idea

Once you’ve collected the various concepts and encouraged employees to play a role in devising the solution, why not ask them to continue the creation process, by, for example, having them design their new lean manufacturing workstation? Besides feeling proud of his accomplishment, an employee can improve upon his workstation again in the future according to the company’s unique requirements, when need be.

One way to make ideas come to life more efficiently is to have tools and necessary materials on hand. A moonshine shop can be an exciting option to provide a creative setting.

9 – Celebrate the victories—and the defeats—resulting from the change

All the Flexpipe employees at the MPA Trade Show in Montreal.
All the Flexpipe employees at the MPA Trade Show in Montreal.

Your organization should celebrate both the highs and lows related to the change process. Some businesses offer a reward such as t-shirts, corporate items or gift cards to participants. The gifts need not be expensive; they’re meant to recognize the employees’ efforts and encourage them to continue the Lean transformation endeavour.

10 – Keeping flexibility and agility in mind while recruiting

Even with the best intentions, sometimes it’s difficult to overcome resistance to change in some employees. When recruiting, make sure to emphasize flexibility and agility. Ask candidates to give you examples of changes they’ve gone through in past jobs and how they reacted to it—beware of those with a hardline stance or who seem insincere.

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Sly Lejour - Chief Sales Officer

Sylvain is Flexpipe’s Director of Sales and co-founded the company. It’s through his work in the engineering field that he discovered lean manufacturing principles in 2002. He set out to seek out new challenges and expand Flexpipe’s offering. According to him, Flexpipe consists of tubes, joint connectors, and creativity!