3 signs that people are not on board

Change Management

I’ve worked in many Lean and Operational Excellence initiatives and know that people is key. I know you know this too. It does not matter how well you apply Lean principles, they are useless if people are not on board. I call this “the F1 car without a pilot” syndrome. Your work will most likely finish like this:


Summary: You have to pay attention to people. Good news is that people tend to show their dislike and frustration; bad news is that they typically don’t do it verbally. How could you know? Observe how they behave. In many cases people don’t like change because they fear its consequences: “will I lose my job?”, “will I lose power?”, “will everybody know all the things I do wrong?” and many others. Most animals (including human beings) do one of these 3 things if they are scared:

  • they hide
  • they freeze up
  • they attack

It is not very difficult to find out that something is going on if you pay attention. Any of these signs will tell you that you must take action:

  • Hiding signs: people not showing up at meetings, people saying they don’t have problems, managers not showing their metrics when asked, nobody has improvement ideas
  • Freezing up signs: people staying in silence at meetings, nobody wants to own actions, actions are not done on time, are done partially or not done at all
  • Attacking signs: people saying “we tried that before” or “it won’t work here”, people blaming each other, direct attacks to the improvement initiative.

What to do? Keep calm and work to create confidence.


  • DON’T put in place your favorite solution at any cost
  • DON’T cut and paste the solution that worked somewhere else
  • DON’T ask for ideas if you are not ready to listen carefully
  • DON’T exclude people you don’t like or who don’t think like you
  • DON’T use any type of passive-aggressive tactic (“well, if you are not interested in improving your work….”, “if this is the way you like working”, “nobody is apparently ready for modern management…”
  • DON’T start the meeting if you are nervous, angry or unprepared

DON’Ts summary:




  • Ask supervisors / managers to explain why this project is important and how it will impact the company / department. If supervisors / managers can’t explain this, don’t go on.
  • Ask supervisors / managers to thank the team for the hard work (at the end of the project)
  • Ask supervisors / managers to guarantee a risk-free environment. Explain what will happen if the project is a success (e.g. what will happen with the people you no longer need if the process is optimized)
  • Ask supervisors / managers to participate in the team’s work: 80% listening, 20% talking.
  • Let the team ask any question to anybody or challenge anything.
  • Let the team try their solutions, no matter how wrong they might seem
  • Let the team decide implementation dates
  • Make team members commit in public to the action plan
  • Let the team present their solutions to their colleagues and supervision
  • Let the team decide how to measure success
  • Let the team decide how to follow up progress (but there must be a follow up process)
  • Let the team decide what to do if things fail
  • Celebrate success / celebrate learning

Don’t forget the people aspects of Lean unless you want your project to finish pretty much like this:





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3 responses to “3 signs that people are not on board”

  1. Thomas Liesener says :

    Reblogged this on Kaizen Factory.

Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Myth: Middle managers hate Lean | lean voodoo - 16 October, 2016
  2. Best of LeanVoodoo 2016 | lean voodoo - 4 January, 2017

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