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Take the pressure off! Using the Y-curve with your Kaizen improvements

Do you feel under pressure when you have to make changes happen in your business?

It can be scary when we try something that we have never done before. I remember thinking to myself 'how on Earth am I going to figure this out?' on many occasions. I think the last time was a few weeks ago! Years on from becoming reasonable at the art of change I am still faced with the same dilemma. It is scary and it is clear to me why so many people shy away from making change happen.

It is natural to get stuck in this oscillation. On one hand you need to make change happen; the business needs the improvement benefits. On the other hand you don't want to screw up...

Last week I was talking to a young engineer that I am mentoring. He was paralysed. Changes were not happening at all. There was always some early promise with his projects and then, as completion (and judgement day) loomed, progress would evaporate.

The engineer asked me for my views on this  during a recent conversation about this observation. I reflected on my personal approach and two insights came to the conversation.
  1. I've done this kind of work for a lot longer than my young colleague, so I know more stuff to help me out.
  2. I have a different perspective on change and the change process, but this can be gained at the start of a career.
The perspective I am talking about is the perspective that helps take the fear out of change. It is the perspective that allows you to become far more effective at handling change. It is hopefully a small shift you can make if you want to become more effective in your current role.

This change in perspective, when it comes to change and Kaizen, can be gained be considering these points:
  • Most change is accompanied by a period of confusion and learning.
  • If we accept that the PDCA (Plan, Do, Check and Act) cycle is essential then we will expect to tailor our improvement as we progress.
  • Effective change in a business is rarely instantaneous.
  • Learning from the change process is one of the fastest ways to become more effective.
A good summary of this reality is the 'Y curve' which is sketched below.

effective improvement experience
The 'Y-curve' for implementing change - make it your friend!

There will be a point when you trial your idea and performance can drop off. This is the point where the team undertaking the new process / activity are learning the new method.

During this time it is likely that they too will be learning and confused at the same time. Performance often drops further whilst they come to grips with the new method.

This drop off time is also the perfect time to embrace the PDCA cycle and ensure that checking and acting are reinforced to maximise the learning in this phase.

Then one day, things start to make sense. The new method is effective and the 'death spiral' is abated. Performance starts to return and, if it was the right change to make, the new level of performance will be higher than when you started.

If you accept these observations and the performance profile of the Y-curve then you will start to take the pressure of yourself when leading change. If you tie this in with regular and effective communication with your line management structure then you will enjoy a far smoother ride when it comes to making change happen.

As I said earlier, one of the best things to come out of this change activity is the learning that you can personally gain. Kaizen is an amazing tool to unleash on a business, but remember that you don't have to stay the same during the process. Apply Kaizen to yourself during this period and become more effective at making change happen.

What you can achieve today is only a fraction of your full potential, so don't forget to take the pressure off yourself and become better in the process.

Take it easy!


About the author Giles Johnston is a Chartered Engineer who specialises in helping businesses to grow and improve through better business processes. Giles is also the author of Effective Root Cause Analysis and 'What Does Good Look Like?'.

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