Influencing Change — Building Culture

Anthropology to the rescue

Influencing change, building culture, these are the challenges that keep management up at night. However, with the right tools and philosophies, the challenges that once kept them up, will be a thing of the past.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), works to create sustainable development throughout civilizations across the planet. Their mission is to help contribute to the building of peace, the eradication of poverty, and intercultural dialogue through education.

So what does this have to do with 5S and lean principles?

Back in the mid 1950’s, UNESCO published a book, Cultural Patterns and Technical Change, edited by an anthropologist, Margaret Mead. Mead was an original innovator of modern anthropology and spent several years studying isolated cultures in Africa, Pacific Islands, and the Americas. She, along with her colleagues watched over these cultures as new technologies were introduced and the ensuing effects it would have on the different cultures.

Culture is not a kettle full of loose, disconnected pieces. Rather, it is a unified whole, no element of which can be disturbed without repercussions at a wide scale.

-Cultural Patterns and Technical Change

Connecting the dots

5S News and our affiliates continue to advocate lean transformations and 5S systems worldwide. The importance  of a culture that surrounds themselves around these principles is not to be overrated.

The book details several cultures and reveals valuable information on the broad spectrum of human behavior within a culture. This behavior is not unique to mankind, nor to the human practices that have been shaping cultures since the dawn of time.

The most basic definition of a culture is simply a “body of learned behavior,” as noted in the beginning of UNESCO’s book. For the purposes of study then, a culture can be found in a factory, an office, a mine, a warehouse, basically anywhere common people join together regularly and perform similar tasks.

Thus revealing that the correlation between industrial cultures and every other culture known to man is actually stronger than we might have thought.

How the Palauan islander reacts to the disruption of his traditional way of life may seem a far cry from the problem of the line supervisor who sees no point in the staff man’s new-fangled ideas –but the distance is not so great as might be supposed.

-J. M. Juran

Psychological principles influencing acceptance of change

Implementing and maintaining a 5S system into your workplace requires a culture of active participants who believe in the culture you are trying to create. The success of your culture and the change you desire, hinges on two key ingredients.

  • Unlearning old habits, attitudes, beliefs.
  • Learning and accepting the new.

This is no easy task to take on. Established cultures, whether they’re in the work place or an indigenous region are not generally accepting to change. Acknowledging this, the UNESCO book develops the psychological principles for influencing acceptance of change. These principles are as follows:

  1. The staff specialists who propose change must understand that the premises on which they base their proposals are merely products of the culture in which the expert happened to be reared. They are not universal truths
  2. The culture of the supervisor serves him well by providing him with precedent, practices, and explanations. These things, however unenlightened , have the advantage of predictability and thus assure, to some degree, peace of mind. The more the staff specialist recognizes the real values this culture has for the supervisor (instead of disparaging it as “ignorance,” “stubbornness, “too old-to-learn, ” etc.) the better will he be able to prepare his case.
  3. The staff specialist should examine his proposals from the viewpoint of the supervisor, since that is what the latter is bound to do anyhow.
  4. The staff specialist must avoid the temptation to deal with a localized problem through a sweeping master plan which goes far beyond immediate needs. If he/she urges the sweeping plan, they risk rejection of the entire proposal, including the solution to the localized problem as well.
  5. Unless the supervisor is genuinely convinced that the change should be made, they are likely to return to their old ways rather than endure the tensions of frustrations brought about by the change. 

Sustainable change takes time and effort. You can’t expect to tell staff members that their old habits are obsolete and receive a warm welcome. The frustration, as pointed out in the UNESCO book, is natural and should be expected.

Introducing lean and 5S systems into your operations can have serious backlash if you don’t take the proper steps in doing so. The human mind is an intrinsic and complicated part our anatomy. But with the right techniques, change and adaptation is possible. Overlooking the right steps however, can be extremely detrimental to the change and culture you wish to bring about.

Understanding the right ways to influence change is the difference between building a culture you desire and one that can bring down your entire system you worked for.

Sources: Juran, J. M. (1956). Improving the Relationship between Staff and Line. Personnel, 32.

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