Case Study: Is Sustainable Change an Oxymoron?
“Is Sustainable Change an oxymoron? Would it be change if it was ‘sustained’ and didn’t change?” Obviously change is a disciple. Change is a culture. And when we talk about being sustainable we are describing a mental attitude; we are describing a discipline and not a point in time. Sustainable change is an environment where we are mentally and culturally focused on searching for and identifying opportunities for improvement.
As a disclaimer, a modern use of the term “sustainable” focuses on environmentally focused activities. That’s not how we are using the term Sustainable change in this article. For us sustainable refers to maintaining a change focused perspective and a change culture.
A few years back I was involved in the major organizational transformation of a military base which involved a restructuring of their maintenance facility. The primary change tool was Lean / Six Sigma. The impact of the changes were dramatic including a 80+ % reduction in some of the cycle times, a 50+ % reduction in inventory, a reduction in paperwork, travel time, inspections, etc. The over-all impact was that the throughput of the maintenance organization was nearly tripled.
Two years after the transformation a new general was given command of the base. This new general thought Lean was a lot of “smoke and mirrors.” He had never experienced the Lean change process and had no faith in it. He trusted tradition and changed everything back to the way it was before the transformation. He re-instituted the paperwork trail and the inspections that existed prior to the transformation, and the throughput improvements were quickly eliminated.
What happened? Why, in spite of the obvious improvements, were the successful changes eliminated? In order to take a look at this failure we need to begin by defining some of the terminology. What is sustainability? What is change?
There are numerous models for change, each claiming to be the answer to all your pains. Here are a few of the more popular examples:
TPS (Toyota Production System) – Within TPS we find the roots of many of our current change management models. For example TQM (Total Quality Management), Lean, Six Sigma, Quality Functional Deployment (QFD), Hoshin, etc. are all change methodologies founded on TPS. We Westerners have the habit of searching for one piece of TPS which is the golden coin that we hope will define TPS success. Over time we have migrated from the simplistic to the more complete version of TPS. Today the favorite TPS change model is called Lean.