The alternative title to this entry is _Coping with Barriers to Implementing Lean Manufacturing_ but I doubt that title would compel many of you to read it. Regardless of context, getting people to change is the subject of this entry based on a conversation I had yesterday with an apparel manufacturer in Switzerland. In retrospect, I should have charged for the call but I didn’t know the conversation would be so lengthy at the outset. In attempt to recoup a portion of my uncompensated investment, I’ll share some of that with you.
Said manufacturer I’ll call “C” (the owner), called to ask about America’s 21st, the company with the TSS franchise and whether he should hire them to implement lean cells in his plant. I wrote about America’s 21st previously. Since then I got a line on another lean apparel consultant (since America’s 21st ignores me) but I’m waiting for a referral via Byte-Software (who recently joined our forum) and TC2 does ithis too but I don’t know much about their program. In the discussion, “C” said he’d been discussing lean manufacturing with his stitchers and not surprisingly, they were not receptive. I told “C” about some psychological factors that impinge on their receptivity of new ideas that may help you.
People who work the factory floor -like me- are stubborn. We have to be, that’s why we’re good at our jobs. It takes a persistent or perseverant personality to put quality products together day in and day out. You don’t want people who will be creative on the fly, introducing new methods in the process as whim strikes them. Designers are no less stubborn; it’s a double edged sword. Specifically, you have to realize that a main concept of lean is cross training, operators learn to do each other’s operations. This is very threatening to key sewing machine operators and their reactions flavor the rest of the floor. Neophytes are surprised to learn there is a hierarchy on the sewing floor with commensurate politicking.
A key sewing operator is someone who is considered to be more highly skilled. Often their “rank” on the floor is associated with a particular piece of equipment they operate exclusively. An example would be a pocket welt maker; there’s usually only one of these machines per 100-200 or so stitchers and while the process is automated (meaning independent of the operator’s actual sewing execution), loading the machine and matching stripes is critical. Operators like pocket welters can be little queens, lording over lesser operators. It doesn’t help that their work station is usually elevated above the other machines due to set up configuration and set apart, not in the sewing lines themselves.
I asked “C” who his key operator was, in his case this would be the woman who sets the zippers. This operator has a lot invested in promoting her self worth. “Everybody” at his plant “knows” that setting zippers is the most difficult job. The zipper setter has -anecdotally of course- invested conveyance of the critical nature of her operation to others and that they cannot replace her. Even supervisors and owners buy into it. The other operators usually believe it and have instilled fear of that operation and will avoid learning it. Thus, is the first barrier to the cross training required by lean manufacturing. If all of the operators fear a given operation, they’ll shy from learning it, they’ve been told ad infinitum how difficult it is. Similarly, the zipper setter is not going to be happy with a reduction in status. If anyone can do her job, she has less value, she’s not superior to anyone. By extension, she will resist learning lesser esteemed operations the other stitchers are performing. Designers aren’t the only prima donnas in an enterprise. Sewing floors are infested with small fiefdoms :).
There is only one way to deal with this and few of you are going to like my advice on the face of it. As it pertains to implementing change, unfortunately or fortunately, I can’t tell which, most of the designers and manufacturers I deal with are compassionate people. They don’t want to force a change. They want a buy-in from the staff rather than dictatorially forcing a change. I understand and applaud your humanitarianism. However, as someone who’s studied implementation of change extensively, I know one thing: You can’t convince people to change their attitudes in order to affect a change in behavior. It almost never works. Attempting to compel people with balanced arguments rarely has the desired effect. Rather, you must change behaviors first, then attitudes will follow (cognitive behaviorists are cheering from the rooftops).
Take my tutorials as an example. When I’m introducing a new method, sure, I’ll invest a little time persuading you to do it my way (the buy-in) but when it comes down to it, I just tell you stop protesting, quit complaining and do it my way. Actually, beforehand, I’ll try to make you laugh or shock you, both of these tactics reduce barriers to learning but in the end I basically say to shut up and do it my way, and then kvetch if it doesn’t work. But you know what? Nobody who actually does what I say ever complains. No no, it’s quite the opposite. Once they use the new behavior that works, then their attitude about the new method is changed. And they love it. As I build a track record, they become more willing to try new things and will more readily explore new behaviors. The only people who complain it doesn’t work are the ones who haven’t tried the new behavior. In this medium I can’t stand over you with a stick and make you do what I say but I certainly try.
If you’re interested in implementing change, study cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). While it is mainly used to alleviate depression, it has immense potential in industrial psychology. It is rather new, incredibly cost effective and the results dramatically out pace any other kind of therapy. In the early days of this blog I wrote a topic related to CBT, The cognitive dissonance of experts which explains why it is more difficult to teach experts than beginners. It’s one of my favorite entries and embodies much of my learning and teaching philosophies.
Remember, you must change behaviors first. Then attitudes will follow.