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The "Playbook" of Sustaining Change

by Lynn Kelley
October 24, 2017

The "Playbook" of Sustaining Change

by Lynn Kelley
October 24, 2017 | Comments (8)

C: The sad fact is that most transformations fail. Hi, I’m Chet Marchwinski, Communications Director at the Lean Enterprise Institute. To talk about reasons why change initiatives fail and hopefully to give you some ways to avoid it, I’m talking today with Lynn Kelley.

Lynn, welcome and thanks for taking the time out to talk about this important question and hopefully give the viewers some tips on how to sidestep change failure. First, in your experience, what are the keys to sustaining change? 

L: Well this is a good question because I learned through a lot of failures. For the last 30 years I’ve been implementing large-scale change throughout major organizations, often Fortune 200 companies, and I failed a lot. And every time I failed I would use my lean training to try to figure out the root cause, and then, as you mentioned, I have a Ph.D. in Research and Evaluations, I would look at the research and say, “What does the research say about this topic?” And what I found is some common areas where people fail.

So I’ve put together over the course of my career a playbook, which I use to facilitate change with my teams. And I went from mostly failing to mostly succeeding with this playbook. And I continue to refine it, but the main thing I found that ensures success is that before you announce the change, before you go out there and say “We’re going to change!”, you have thought through a multitude of potential problem areas, and created answers for those and addressed them, so that all of those possible places you could fail are addressed before you start.

C: And you mentioned the research, and you’ve noted that 70 percent of large-scale change initiatives fail, and 60 percent of continuous improvement projects fail to sustain results. That’s pretty discouraging!

L: It is discouraging, and guess what? Every study has 60-70. The thing that I don't think we understand is when we’re starting to roll something out, the probability is that it’s going to fail. And so what we really need to do is look beyond that. It’s funny because when I teach this course, I ask the students, “Tell me all the ways that change fails.” And they almost always name every single area. We can say some of them right now: lack of leadership; certain employees just don’t want to change; employees don’t have the right skills but we didn’t provide them with training. There’s a multitude of reasons and they’re pretty well documented. The two major ones that almost tie in the percentages are lack of leadership support and employees just don’t want to change.

C: As you note, you’ve had a lot of experience with big companies, small companies and change. And at one point you were COO of a hospital. So I’m wondering – do healthcare change efforts face special challenges?

L: Actually, not in my experience. I’ve used this methodology in engineering, in healthcare…the automotive industry, the aerospace industry, even at E-Z-Go golf cars. Lots of different situations, lots of different applications: finance departments, IT departments, change is change is change. It always fails for the same reasons; it doesn’t matter. The amount of effort you have to put in the various areas may differ, but it’s usually the same categories.

C: And finally, you teach a workshop that’s called Change That Sustains. Who is it aimed at and what will they learn?

L: It’s primarily aimed at anyone who is implementing change. What we do is we start by looking at enterprise-wide or company-wide change, big change; and then we get very granular and we take it down to projects. Maybe 10 years ago my team took the change principles and we applied them to our projects because our internal customers said “Wait a minute; your projects don’t sustain!” And we looked at the data and we found that just 10 percent of our projects sustained the same metrics after six months. And I bet you that’s not that unusual out there. And so we worked through this playbook and addressed a lot of areas. And last year we were at 95 percent sustainment. And what I’m telling you is that metric is still sustaining the gain. And by the way, if it hasn’t, if it’s gone red…we escalate it. So we have to get six months of sustainment in order to call it sustained, and last year it was 95 percent. 

C: Wow, that’s remarkable. Lynn, thanks a lot for stopping by and sharing your insights on this important topic. 

L: Thank you Chet.

C: For more information about Lynn’s workshop, Change That Sustains, and for resources on lean transformations, please visit lean.org today – and thanks for watching.

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Editor's note: Did you miss Lynn Kelley at the 2017 Lean Transformation Summit? Catch her again when she teaches Change That Sustains at the 2018 Summit, March 26-27 in Nashville. For more information, visit the summit webpage.

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views or policies of The Lean Enterprise Institute.
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MARK GRABAN October 24, 2017
2 People AGREE with this comment

The studies never said that 70% of large scale change initiatives "fail" - it was said they didn't meet expectations. That's different.

A lot about that "research" has been debunked over time:

http://www.enclaria.com/2014/06/03/its-time-to-abolish-the-70-change-failure-rate-statistic/



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Dave LaHote October 24, 2017
1 Person AGREES with this reply

I agree Mark.  In my experience, organizations that are trying to do "large scale change" often have broad, unclear objectives like "becoming lean".  So, judging sucess is somewhat arbritary.  The other problem with these statistics is that as a former leader of an organization, if someone came to me an said let's lead the organization down a path that only has a 30% chance of being sucessful I would have told them to hit the road as we had more important things to focus on.



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MARK GRABAN October 24, 2017
2 People AGREE with this comment

Also, if causes of failure include "lack of leadership; certain employees just don’t want to change" then I'd suggest employees not wanting to change is DUE TO "lack of leadership." To be

To be more successful with change, we should all stop blaming employees for being "resistant to change" and, instead, figure out how to better engage them.



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Dave LaHote October 24, 2017

Again I agree Mark.  Frankly, I have never understood the "lack of senior leadership support" thing.  Does this mean organizations have leaders that don't want improved quality, reduced leadtime and better employee engagement?  I'm also not sure what "support" looks like in terms of behavior and who gets to judge the degree to which it does or does not exist.  There may be a good reason that organizations like TSSC always starts with small scale change (a model cell).



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Lynn Kelley October 24, 2017

I like the dialogue, and would like to expand on it.   You're correct, Mark, that one of the specific studies (I believe it was one that was published in HBR--but I don't have my notes with me) said that 70% of large scale change initiatives failed to meet expectations.   However, there are other studies that come up with the same 60-70% number and state that the change actually failed.   Usually the timeframe studied is within 3-5 years.   On the "Lack of Leadership Support" question, I won't quote the studies again, but will simply say from my experience, I have had many occasions where we worked with a facility or department to implement lean and the leadership bought in.   However, once the leadership changed, the lean initiative failed if the new leader didn't support it.   It's a struggle for people to carry on when the leadership doesn't support or actually discourages the change initiative.



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MARK GRABAN October 25, 2017

Dave - I recently had an email exchange with somebody whose hospital eliminated their Lean program and the internal team of coaches because the new COO "wasn't into Lean."

To your point, are they not "into" quaity improvement, patient safety improvement, productivity improvement, and a better workplace?

If they are "into" those goals, what is their strategy for simultaneously accomplishing that??

Lynn, thanks for sparking the dialogue...



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Lynn Kelley October 25, 2017

Mark - Thanks for the link on the "debunking the 70% statistic."    I have been working off my phone and didn't notice the link until now, but I just reviewed the article.   This is useful information.   I do have 2 other studies on the 60-70% statistics, that are actual studies and not from a secondary source; however, since I'm on my phone I can't grab them.    Once I'm connected again, I'll pull those up, review the link you sent in detail and am interested in seeing if it changes my thoughts.   

I also wanted to respond to the "leadership support" question - how and who gauges/judges it?    I agree that it's a tough one, and certainly subjective.  My strategy is to get a group of people together who are responsible for the change and under a "confidential code" honestly discuss behaviors they have experienced/seen from the leader and determine if they fall into "support the change initiative" or "does not support the change initiative" category.   Once those non-supportive behaviors have been identified, it's important to give the leader the benefit of a doubt and discuss the topic with the leader to determine the true level of support and bring to attention the behaviors that don't exhibit that support to others.  Yes---it's subjective and qualitative, but it has worked more often than it has failed for me.



Jason Yip April 13, 2018

I'd expect that the successful scenarios also had employees that didn't want to change.



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