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Managing difficult stakeholders during Lean deployment

lean deployment

April 27, 2017

Lean deployment is difficult for any organisation. It is a complex process requiring businesses and people to change fundamentally. Systems, supply chain, reporting, data analysis – not to mention the very culture of the company – all need to be put under the microscope. Some aspects of your Lean deployment will be straightforward but many will take considerable time and effort to achieve successfully, and will inevitably cause friction along the way.  So how do you manage difficult stakeholders who are resistant to the Lean programme or – worse still – actively dislike you and what you’re trying to do?

That said, don’t be afraid of upsetting people.  Of course you need to be mindful of people’s feelings and the practical ways in which they will be affected by the Lean deployment, but don’t allow yourself to be derailed by trying to please everyone or water down your Lean ambitions for fear of putting a few noses out of joint.

Practical objections and how to counter them

Resistance to Lean often stems from ‘not invented here’ syndrome. Employees who are used to the old ways of doing things may not see the need to change the systems which have been in place for years.  They may refuse to recognise that there is anything seriously wrong with current processes (even when presented with evidence to the contrary) or may assert that any weaknesses in the system aren’t fixable because ‘it’s always been like that’.

One of the best ways to get a resistant colleague involved is to give them ownership of a particular aspect of the Lean programme. Stroke their ego by explaining how they are the best person for the job and let them take the lead on implementing it. If possible, try and find co-workers who are supportive of your Lean deployment but also get on well with the tricky colleague then they can become advocates of the new system without you having to be the flag bearer.

Incentives can be a powerful way of getting someone on board with a new initiative.  Humans are inherently selfish, so spell out how he or she will benefit from the success of the Lean programme and make sure that they get an early share of the spoils. However much they resent you and your plans, they are unlikely to cut off their nose to spite their face, especially if financial rewards, promotion or public recognition are on the cards.

Don’t try and run before you can walk.  Start with small changes which are easy to make and will have a noticeable impact, before moving on to larger improvements and full-scale culture change. Haters may start to realise the benefits of Lean once results are evident, particularly if their job is made easier or their department is given the chance to shine.

Surrounding them with positive people who are supportive of the programme will help to dilute their distain in the short-term, but if they remain negative towards Lean, they are likely to move on to pastures new once they realise they’re in a minority of one.

Neutralising negative emotions

Working with someone who, frankly, appears to dislike you and everything you’re trying to do, is one of the most challenging aspects of the working environment. However, there are some fairly simple ways to try and neutralise their negativity. They may never be your biggest fan, but you can at least get them off your back and focused on the task in hand.

Conflict with a colleague can have many causes and you may never get to the bottom of their hatred.  However, it’s likely to be linked to their ego and self-esteem.  People with a seemingly irrational dislike of someone are usually suffering from low self-esteem. He or she may feel threatened by you (particularly since you are imposing change on them and their workplace); they may see character traits in you which they dislike in themselves, so your presence is magnifying their sense of inadequacy or self-loathing; or it could be that they think you dislike them so they believe they’re acting in self-defence.

Someone with low self-esteem has a big ego (egotists seek self-respect from others) whereas confident, self-assured people have a small ego. If your combatant falls into this category, try to find ways of building their self-esteem by feeding their ego.  For instance, tell another colleague how much you like, admire or respect the difficult person. When this message reaches him or her via the third party it will be more believable than if it came directly from you, their perceived nemesis. It is psychologically difficult to hold a grudge against someone who likes you, so this can be a very powerful way to neutralise them.

Another tactic is to ask the difficult person to do you a favour (or at least position it as asking them to do you a favour). It sounds counterintuitive but, psychologically, people find it harder to hate someone who they’ve helped. Similarly, if they feel that you’re trying to help them, they are likely to feel patronised and will dislike you even more.  Make them feel as though they are really needed.

It’s important to remember that, ultimately, if you stick to your guns, a difficult colleague in this situation will go one of two ways.  Either you will successfully win them round and they will become a huge advocate of Lean and make a major contribution to the initiative, or they will leave in a huff.  Whatever the outcome, you and the Lean deployment programme will win through in the end, but the ride is likely to be bumpy!

How have you dealt with difficult colleagues and stakeholders during a Lean deployment?  If you need help in winning over the doubters, our coaching courses could really make a difference.

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