Overcoming Opposition During LEAN Deployment

LEAN business practices are commonplace in the modern day, and have been for some time. Especially throughout the last two to three decades, businesses in a variety of sectors have overwhelmingly opted for LEAN/Six Sigma practices. Lean methodology is meant to increase efficiency, decrease waste, and, ultimately, maximize the profit margins of a business, and they do a good job. However, when making the switch over to these strategies and systems, opposition of some degree can become inevitable. If you’re finding that your own employees or managers are part of this last bastion of opposition, here are some ways you can help overcome doubt and make the transition to LEAN smooth for everyone.

Identifying Root Causes

Before you can implement any type of workable solution, you need to identify who your naysayers are and exactly why they’re opposed. The three main groups you need to consider are everyday employees/workers, lower and middle management, and corporate-level management. However, if you find yourself trying to implement LEAN practices and running up against some resistance you’re probably either:

  • A business owner working to implement the changes himself
  • An independent contractor who has been brought in to assist in the setup of the new practices.

In either case, anyone at this stage is probably pre-approved by the higher-ups, meaning that the only groups you don’t really need to worry about upper management; they’re already on your side. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the other two:

Everyday Workers

Most established employees, that’s those who have not just started the job, have a way of doing things that they’re used to and aren’t keen on changing that up. For many, change in the workplace can feel like the loss of a familiar routine, or even a personal attack, as if to say that the way they were previously handling things wasn’t good enough – this is especially true with employees who have been with a company for many years, who might have been the ones who came up with or pioneered the current practices that you’re about to alter or throw out altogether. Additionally, workers may feel that programs which make work more efficient or take less time might result in a reduction of work hours or the need for training in additional tasks in order to fill their new-found time that might be saved by swapping systems (neither of which seems ideal to them).

Most of these roadblocks are personal and unfounded in any sort of actual evidence that a change would be bad. While you can’t come straight out and say as much, you should make each employee understand that the reasons for change aren’t personal. Let employees clearly know how such a transition could actually make their life easier. As for fears of reduced hours, have managers make their intentions clear from the get go, most apprehension comes from not knowing, so once the post-implementation environment is no longer a mystery, emotional responses tend to fade.


Lower (branch) managers may also have resistance to a corporate ordered LEAN redevelopment. Some of their fears are the same as workers’, like feeling offended that a system they’ve successfully piloted is being uprooted. On the other hand, some reasons for opposition are unique to managers. For example, a manager may worry about how performance will be evaluated and wonder whether numbers that were good and sustainable before won’t cut it anymore. They may also have simply grown complacent, many managers work their way up from a line employee and may have become accustomed to calling the shots, rather than having to conform to new training and rules. Finally, they might just worry that they will be confused or ineffective in a new system and fear failure.

In most cases, communication is, again, key to paving a smooth path to LEAN deployment. Ask corporate to be clear with managers about what expectations will be in place long before a change actually happens. Ensure that the proper tools and training for success are available for managers; part of the transition is providing experts (this may even be you) in LEAN practices to work as advisers to management shortly after the transition is made.

The vast majority of opposition issues are, as you can see, mental ones. The key lies to communicating intentions and reasoning in a non-combative way and shedding light on what otherwise might be a new, dark, and uncertain path for your employees.

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