Change Management Lessons from a Caveman

Change Management Lessons from a Caveman

Have you ever wondered what the oldest tool is in your Lean Six Sigma toolbox? Some argue that Dr. John Snow’s map, which helped end the cholera epidemic of London in the mid-1800’s, was one of the first uses of a concentration diagram. Karl Pearson gave us the standard deviation around 1893. Walter Shewhart drew the first control chart in 1924. In 1977, as John Travolta was strutting about in white polyester, John Tukey was working hard at Bell Labs to bring us the box plot. As you can see, some tools are old, others are relatively new. I posit that the oldest tool by far in your LSS tool box is change management.

Stone-age man had very few process improvement tools at his disposal.  Essentially, he had a rock and a stick – it doesn’t get any more basic than that. If something didn’t work right, he had two choices:  a) whack it with the rock, or  b) poke it with the stick. Sadly, that approach has not evolved a great deal inside many companies today. Smacking something with a rock is about one step down from “kicking the machine” to try to make things better – a tactic frequently employed by those lacking a methodology like DMAIC.  Jabbing something with a stick has been replaced by attempts by management to prod workers to perform better with hollow motivations such as “work smarter, not harder” – or worse yet – “do this or you’re fired.”

Inside work-smarter companies, the “rock” has fully blossomed into more advanced methodologies such as DMAIC and DMADV. They contain a wonderful array of amazing techniques to design better business processes or fix broken ones. Consider this to be the technical side of process   improvement. The fact that you found your way to this website and are reading this article likely means you are aware of, and probably proficient in, at least some of these methods.

There is also a human side to consider. Here’s where the “stick” re-enters the picture.  When our earliest ancestors stumbled out of their cave and poked another caveman to move out of their way or follow them, the art and science of change management was born. That early stick has also developed into a broader, deeper set of techniques to address the human side of process change.

What can we learn from our stone-age friends? A caveman would not have been caught dead without both the finest rock and the strongest stick he could scrounge up in the wilderness. We should not approach process improvement with a lopsided toolbox spilling over with technical tools, but completely lacking in tools that address the human side. Here are four simple pieces to the human side of change management that you can put to use immediately:

  • You don’t know what you don’t know. Get curious about managing change in your process improvements. Consider going to the library and grabbing every book on change you can find. Skim them to start creating better awareness – allow yourself just 3-5 minutes per book to blast through them and get started with the essentials. You may be surprised at how many things you see that you didn’t know about before. Take the most interesting 1-2 books home and read those in their entirety. (I highly recommend Chapter Eight of our new book, Driving Operational Excellence, as a starting point).
  • Rock On.” I told you earlier that the rock represents the technical side in which you may already be proficient. Use what you know!  List out all of the DMAIC and DMADV tools you have used or considered in the past, and ask yourself how they could be applied to helping ensure people will follow your new processes.
  • Study Success. Look around your company and ask, “What are some of the most successful changes we’ve made in the past?” Talk to the people involved in driving that change to learn what they did (and didn’t do) to make that change successful in your environment.  Look beyond just the big issues and drill down to some of the more mundane, routine things they did as well – it’s all about fundamentals!
  • Finally, visit my website at to download your free “Change Management Street Smarts Workbook” – a companion to the change lessons contained in the book, Driving Operational Excellence.

About the author: Jeff Cole is a recognized consultant, author, and speaker specializing in improvement strategies. He has helped clients across multiple industries improve their operational efficiencies and bottom lines.


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