0313viewpointMaking Change Stick

Anyone who has ever attempted to bring about change in an organization knows the frustration of watching good principles be ignored despite the commitment of training and funding. Although management may have committed sufficient funds and those who were trained may have intellectually accepted its concepts, no one follows through. But why—and what can be done about it?

In their article “The Neuroscience of Leadership” (Strategy + Business, May 2006), authors David Rock and Jeffery Schwartz noted the experience of change is neurologically similar to that of pain. If that’s true, how do people find the motivation to change? 

The answer, according to Rock and Schwartz is the discovery, realization or epiphany associated with problem solving. As their article explained, a neurological change takes place when people solve problems themselves. This realization process releases neurotransmitters in the brain establishing new links that make change appealing and less “painful.” 

Such findings support the idea that adult learners learn best by doing. Through the act of performing the task and demonstrating the principles in action, the trainee is solving the problem himself/herself and experiencing the neurological benefit. This is an ideal situation since successful training is that which results in a change of behavior.

Getting leaders to change 
Leaders, just like everyone else, often resist change—something that’s frequently reflected in how they approach organizational challenges. For example, it’s rare for a senior leader to look at an organization and wonder what in his/her own behavior is allowing problems to persist. 

It’s not unusual, however, for leaders to look for “off the shelf” packages or programs they can purchase for their operations. This type of response has sparked many Lean, Six Sigma and TPM (Total Productive Maintenance) programs—and it’s also the reason why many of these programs have floundered. Sadly, leaders who don’t make the effort to fully understand and embrace the principles embodied in such programs will not create appropriate expectations in day-to-day interactions with their personnel. Simply being a program sponsor is insufficient. Leaders must be the advocates for what “right” looks like.

  • As a leader, you can’t expect to engender a culture of continuous improvement if you don’t speak the language of root cause for failure modes, standards and corrective actions.
  • As a leader, you can’t expect to have a maintenance program that includes robust planning and scheduling if you don’t create the expectation that the resources to accomplish this are properly sequestered and given timely objectives and follow-up.

Two key steps toward the ‘stick’
To make change stick, the change agent first must get managers and executives to understand that no program will be successful if they themselves are not already trained on it. Remember: Leaders must commit to interacting with their cultures in a way that pulls the culture along with tasks, objectives and follow-up. They can’t change a company’s culture if their culture hasn’t changed. This is the single point of failure for all programs. Leaders must be converts to programs—not merely buyers.

Second, the change agent must craft training that leads people through solving problems themselves. When people experience the principles working, they will use those principles. 

Only when these things have been done will an organization have a shot at making desired changes stick. MT

Keith Diepstra is a Consultant with Marshall Institute. Email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

The opinions expressed in this Viewpoint section are those of the author, and don’t necessarily reflect those of the staff and management of Maintenance Technology magazine.