How to get people to change

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.

Get New Posts by Email


  1. Well said. My one caveat would be that some basic training on fundamental concepts of lean – including cross-training – should be provided to all employees before they are cross-trained on the machines they fear. And perhaps some other lean tools and methods – 5S, kaizen events to improve operations that ARE widely understood – should also come first to build lean buy-in.
    Culture change is always the hardest part of lean. Not surprisingly, here at Productivity Press, our book Creating a Lean Culture: Tools to Sustain Lean Conversions by David Mann has remained one of our best-sellers since it was published two years ago.

  2. Mike C says:

    I’m not surprised that American’s 21st isn’t super communicative at the moment. I think they got swamped from the show. We’ve got budget and desire to have their folks come down for the analysis immediately and its still taken them some time to get back to us – much less get something scheduled.

    From my discussions with them at the show about operator resistance, they acknowledged that its an issue. They do some training to try and overcome it, but in the end, they said its up to management to remain firm. He said that the most significant problems they’ve seen in the past occur when the employees have convinced management to back- or water- down the project.

    I know that Amy’s #1 concern with implementation is how the employees will accept the changes. I’m pretty sure we’ll have some issues with them, though I’d be surprised if anyone left over it. We already offer better than average pay and working conditions for our folks.

    But, we’ve decided that changing over to a more efficient manufacturing model is _strategic_ for us. In other words, we don’t believe we can succeed in the long term without it. Our entire model is based around lots of styles and options which equates to a boatload of SKUs. Even with what we’ve got, we’re still pressed to keep popular styles available to customers without exploding our inventory. Being able to manufacture small quantities nearly on demand is just a requirement of our sales model.

    We’re prepared to share some of the increased manufacturing efficiency with the folks actually doing the work (via increased wages, through some yet-to-be-determined mechanism) and we’re also prepared to hire new staff as a last resort.

  3. Andrea says:

    Bravo! I suffer from anxiety attacks and have gotten the best results from behavior modification. It really works.

  4. Kathleen says:

    What does “C” do when the zipper lady is sick or needs a day off?

    Frets and fumes (nicely, he’s a nice man). I have the sense this lady kind of rules the roost (not that he bad mouthed her). As you well know Esther, stuff piles up in her absence. Converting to a lean system would eliminate her control in the situation. In this case, she may have pushed too hard if he’s willing to adopt another manufacturing model to manage the flow.

  5. Esther says:

    Ok, I was being a bit cheeky. Still, every company has to have a contingency plan in case that “one” person isn’t there. Even if they don’t adopt a true lean manufacturing model, cross-training is still a good idea. Honestly, it was through cross-training that I learned about so many different aspects of the business.

  6. EvelynC547 says:

    I recently visited TC2 after calling to make an appointment. The receptionist was very helpful and gave me the “come on over” without consulting the people who do the tour (they were actually at a show, SPESA show. They took a lot of their equipment…. the reason I didn’t see everything on my tour was because they were still setting up their floor.

    That said, it was a worthwhile experience for myself and my daughter (we’re new to this game) Anyway, I had no idea even after reading their website what to expect. What I didn’t expect (since this was free) was to be taken into a conference room to have a meeting with their Pres., VP of operations and top consultant. In the world I came from (Journalism and Mental Health) that would not have ever happened.

    The tour was fascinating. They have 8 people working in a pod system… (they are showcasing a system you can purchase (not made by them) that brings the pieces of what you’re sewing (in this case it was uniforms for a local Catholic school) around to the sewers in the order they are sewn, a computerized part of this system, then counts the pieces as they are taken off the clamps and replaced, then it moves to the next sewer, each sewer is responsible for their own quality assurance and this makes sense since may end up getting the same piece back for a part to sew, so if they did their part wrong and ignored it, it means they might be the one in this process who’ll have to take it apart. The sewers are in control of their own breaks, pace, etc. (not sure if this would be the case in a real setting but here they control their own thing)

    TC offfers their services for small jobs at a slightly below market price…and I do mean slight. I did ask them several times regarding their nonprofit status as it seems they were operating more like a profit to me, but they had all kinds of industry jargon to explain it, and since I’m new to this I could only assume they were speaking a truth. Still doubt it though.

    They did not rush us, showed us the new fascinating CAD system they have developed, which actually intergrates two existing systems so that you could take a 3D bocy scan, create the clothes and then put it on the model as custom fit, to calculate the measurements and adjust the fit as she/he spins.

    They also had another “lean manufactuing” system where sewers are standing up at the machines and they actually move to the machines they need to work on, in both these systems the stitchers are crossed trained. When I ask what happens if someone is out, they just switch the order of who does what when, so that everything still goes on as usual (means someone is moving to two stations twice as opposed to one time during a process) — okay, I don’t know if I’m explaining this correctly. I have never been in a textile factury so when I said I was new I meant it.

    I do think that if they provide the services they claim it would be worth it… did I mention the VP is a woman? That made me kind of happy — she was also nice, as were the two men. Even though they knew I had no real money (I explained that during our meeting) I didn’t feel as though they were any less attentive. They spent about two hours with us — they might have taken longer but we didn’t get there until 3 (an emergency made me have to call and change the 2 o’clock time to 3. Even at 5pm when they close it was me who suggested it was time to go. They offer all kinds of consultations that if we had money I think I’d use. They also have classes, I plan to take the Intro to Apparel Manufacturing in Sept. They also have internships (fully paid and they don’t do selections to avoid conflict of interest – a Univ does it) The tuition for some of their classes — reasonable.

    I’m not great at this reporting thing, but I hope this helps.

  7. Alison Cummins says:

    Thanks Evelyn, that’s a great post!

    A common misconception is that a non-profit corporation somehow does everything for free. What it means is that the people who run it are paid a salary, they don’t keep any profits. If the corporation makes a profit after paying everyone’s salary, it goes back into the business. It doesn’t go to shareholders.

    Some people don’t like the idea that a non-profit can pay salaries, but if they didn’t there would be lots of people who wouldn’t be able to afford to work in them.

  8. EvelynC547 says:

    Thanks, actually I meant that my questioning was not related to their salaries but other aspects. I think they charge for everything, it seems to me if a nonprofit charges for consultations, services, products, pays salaries, it is possible they are making some profit and not putting it back too. I wasn’t saying that’s what they are doing but I do know nonprofits (at least here in Georgia) have very little oversight. In fact, one just got busted this week.

    And I did enjoy TC2 and they seemed pretty honest. I think someone has said they didn’t like it that they charged for some reports they’d done with Federal monies and that may have put me more on guard than I needed to be… sorry if I have mislead anyone. I have worked for a nonprofit where the director hired her family and pocketed money as well, so I do know it happens. So no, I wasn’t talking about salaries, and I probably should have left that out of the post. Sorry.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.