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Akhilesh Gulati

Quality Insider

Time and Trust Issues at Work

Overcoming the resistance to change initiatives

Published: Tuesday, November 27, 2012 - 14:12

Brian had been running his machine shop as a third-tier supplier to the aerospace industry for more than 15 years, and it had been successful as a small shop. Over the years he had learned the importance of ongoing training and continuous improvement. He contracted with trainers and encouraged his people to take on quality improvement projects. He also partnered with the local professional development center to ensure his people could continue to hone their skills.

As the company grew, he brought in additional professional staff to handle operations and manage his supply chain better. Picking up on lean concepts, he held 5S events and supported setup reduction and other process improvement projects. Lately, he’d even put together an annual strategic plan.

However, Brian was troubled. He had begun to notice that results were not being sustained. He and his executive team were familiar with lean tools and concepts, and facilitated their employees through problem-solving sessions, but there were setbacks. The company leaders seemed to know what was wrong and the tools they could use to overcome the problems, but getting sustained results was proving to be a challenge.

Brian and his executive team learned that time was a big constraint and that trust was a big factor. It appeared that employees did not trust management, especially where process improvement projects were concerned. Brian had a dilemma at hand: how to build trust and achieve sustainable results.

Upon recognizing that trust (or lack thereof) was affecting the bottom line, Brian tried to determine what was happening in his organization. Trust issues began to crop up when employees perceived misleading signals, such as the following:
• Could it be that the executive team was constantly shifting priorities or expecting too much?
• Perhaps the change initiatives were making employees nervous; going from being proficient at what they did to not as proficient with a new process could be making them feel incompetent.
• A couple of employees had left the organization when lean was first implemented a few years ago. Was that seen as a “layoff” because of increased efficiencies?
• Management expected employees to take on improvement projects, but had difficulty assigning time to work on them; delivery deadlines or other priorities took precedence.

People need time to become proficient at the new ways of doing things. It is quite likely that, at the beginning, employees will either be slow or possibly make a few errors when performing their work differently. Brian and his management team needed to realize this and allow time for the new ways to become internalized. Sustained change cannot be brought in with one grand gesture. It takes many small strides to set in; so does establishing a culture of trust.

Brian and his managers needed to put themselves in their employees’ places. Also, Brian realized that he and his team had not been transparent about their decision-making process. Because his organization was a small enterprise where people wore many hats, it was sometimes difficult to take the time to involve everyone in the decision-making process. However, this can be crucial to help build trust, especially when asking employees to leave their comfort zones and try something new.

During Brian’s “ah ha” moment, when recognizing that decision transparency wasn’t occurring, he also acknowledged that sharing information regularly wasn’t happening. His employees needed access to the data that his management team reviewed. Absence of news led to gossip and festered mistrust.

Brian encouraged his executive team and supervisors not to play the “I am manager” card. He suspected they didn’t know how to earn their people’s respect. Perhaps this was one of the leading factors for the mistrust within his organization.

One principle of trust that reflects itself in all aspects of life can be applied to Brian’s situation. This concept can best be shown in as formula:

Trust = (Credibility + Intimacy)
                              Risk

In this case, trust is inversely proportional to the risk. Stated another way, the higher the perceived risk (e.g., any of the changes Brian and his team are enforcing), the less the trust in their intentions. By focusing on credibility and intimacy, leaders can help offset the feeling of risk, thereby increasing trust. Credibility in this formula means having experience and familiarity with helping change occur successfully. Intimacy refers to having the same moral compass or values as well as common interests. This familiarity leads to a feeling of someone watching out for you. Brian and his team have an opportunity to earn the respect of their people by showing familiarity (credibility) and allowing leeway during time of change (intimacy), while employees are still trying to learn new skills or processes, thus lowering the risk level.

Others have suggested similar approaches. Randy Conley, trust practice leader at The Ken Blanchard Companies, recommends that leaders use an ABCD model to identify specific behaviors to improve trust in their relationships. In this model, he dissects the equation further:
• A is for ability, which is all about the leader’s expertise. Are you demonstrating that you know what you are talking about? (Credibility)
• B is for believable. Do you demonstrate character, integrity, and values? (Intimacy)
• C is about connectedness, which is the care and concern leaders demonstrate toward people. Do you take the time to connect and build rapport with people? (Intimacy)
• D is about dependability. It is about being reliable. Can people count on you to follow through on your commitments? (Intimacy)

Trust is a tricky thing; it can’t be created directly or by edict. It needs a nurturing environment where it can grow. Fortunately, implementation of lean methodologies, when done correctly, fosters a trusting work environment. Lean also addresses the issue of time (that Brian sees as a constraint). Lean frees up time by streamlining processes and cutting cycle times, builds intimacy as people work together to find innovative solutions, and reduces risk as people start internalizing the change process.

Time and trust issues are not solved overnight; it sometimes takes months rather than days. Influencing employees’ trust implies modifying the culture of the organization, so having an outside coach to facilitate the change process can be beneficial.

Although Brian knew what the issues were and what he should do, the “how” continued to baffle him. Having a coach guide him and his company through this process was what Brian ultimately decided to do; he is currently in the process of building a trusting workforce.

Discuss

About The Author

Akhilesh Gulati’s picture

Akhilesh Gulati

Akhilesh Gulati has 25 years of experience in operational excellence, process redesign, lean, Six Sigma, strategic planning, and TRIZ (structured innovation) training and consulting in a variety of industries. Gulati is the Principal consultant at PIVOT Management Consultants and the CEO of the analytics firm Pivot Adapt Inc. in S. California. Akhilesh holds an MS from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and MBA from UCLA, is a Six Sigma Master Black Belt and a Balanced Scorecard Professional.