My job allows me to work with many companies in different industries. Most of my interactions with companies are rewarding because I get an opportunity to see changes made and the impact of those changes on the businesses. In my experience, positive change feeds off itself, leading to even more opportunities for success.
However, I periodically encounter reluctance or even resistance to change. Some reasons for this may be legitimate, having something to do with business conditions at a certain point in time. Other reasons are harder to understand and may be based on misperceptions or problems that are actually self-inflicted. The following are some of the more interesting reasons I have encountered for not changing.
In one company, a team tried to improve workplace organization using the 5S technique (sort out, set in order, shine, standardize and sustain). On one of the company’s assembly lines, four people built a product in successive steps from start to finish. Each assembler had a workbench that held everything they needed. There was also an empty, fifth workbench on the line. The team rightfully suggested that the workbench be removed from the area but was told, “We can’t move the bench because of the Food and Drug Administration.”
I was not aware that the FDA had a regulation preventing the movement of unneeded workbenches, so we explored this rule further. It turns out the company had a detailed CAD drawing of the assembly area that it believed was part of “process documentation.” So, even though this particular workbench was not part of the production process, nothing could be moved without the entire production process being revalidated. In reality, the company just needed to update the CAD drawing by taking out the workbench, then have the drawing approved by the appropriate parties. Unfortunately, the company believed that this process would take months to finish, so the workbench stayed where it was, taking up valuable real estate. This company’s internal procedures and perceptions therefore inhibited a positive change.
In another company, a team put together a Value Stream Map showing that a certain process had many steps that could be eliminated, streamlined or combined with other operations to reduce throughput time significantly. The team identified improvements and developed an action plan for implemention. The company’s president, however, looked at the results and said that the map did not tell him anything he did not already know, so the team’s effort was a waste of time. When challenged as to why the problems were not previously addressed, the president answered, “We don’t have time for that here.” This president’s belief that the team wasted its time on identifying things they did not have time to do stopped necessary change dead in its tracks.
A third company believed that more inspection steps increased the chance that products would be built correctly. Whenever a quality problem was detected, the company added an inspection step after the process where the problem occurred. In some processes, it appeared that there were as many inspection steps as production steps.
This company believed that because it had received ISO certification a few years earlier, any quality problem found had to result in a new inspection step to prevent the problem from reoccurring (its interpretation of corrective action). This company’s approach certainly allowed it to catch more defects, but it did nothing to prevent the defects from occurring in the first place. Unfortunately, in this company, the perception was that ISO tied everyone’s hands and “there was nothing they could do about it.”
One common reason I have encountered for not changing is the planned implementation of a new Management Information System (MIS). One company I worked with postponed a number of needed changes pending the implementation of its new system, which has been in the works for 2 years.
These companies seem to seek excuses for not changing and are relieved when they find them. Change can be hard, but I believe that not changing can be even harder in many cases. Perhaps we need to focus on why we have to change instead of why we cannot.