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Employee buy-in and commitment

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Employee Buy-in and Commitment

Getting employee buy-in and commitment can be a HUGE challenge when it involves making changes in the workplace. How do you get you people on board to make it work?

That’s exactly what we’re going to talk about with Sean Fields, a licensed professional engineer who has seen first hand what happens to management change initiatives when management fails to get sufficient employee buy-in and commitment.

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What You’ll Discover About Employee Buy-in and Commitment (highlights & transcript):

Quantum Lean* 2 Reasons why employee buy-in and commitment can’t be assumed [01:13]

* Importance of anticipating the human cost of change management in getting employee buy-in and commitment [03:13]

* The critical need for having a product-centric perspective [07:30]

* Impact of non-product centric perspectives on employee buy-in and commitment [09:10]

* When to bring employees into the change management conversation to maximize employee buy-in and commitment [10:55]

* The importance of clearly defining success [12:41]

* The biggest obstacle to getting employee buy-in and commitment [15:55]

* And much MORE.

Hanna Hasl-Kelchner:        [00:00:00] Getting employee buy-in and commitment can be a huge challenge when it involves making changes in the workplace. How do you get people on board to make it work? That’s exactly what we’re going to talk about next. So, stay tuned.


Announcer:        [00:00:14] [Music] This is Business Confidential Now with Hanna Hasl-Kelchner. Helping you see business issues hiding in plain view that matter to your bottom line. [Music]


Hanna:              [00:00:26] I’m your host, Hanna Hasl-Kelchner, and today’s guest is Sean Fields. He’s a licensed professional engineer in Texas with over 30 years of experience in manufacturing, co-author of the book “Quantum Lean” and a columnist for the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.


During his career, he’s helped lots of companies improve their production scheduling, inventory control, quality management systems, so he’s seen firsthand what happens to management change initiatives when they don’t get enough employee buy-in and commitment.


So, let’s learn how to turn this around and get them on board to get more of that employee buy-in commitment for what you want to do.


Welcome to Business Confidential Now, Sean.


Sean Fields:       [00:01:11] Well, I appreciate that. Thanks for having me on.



Hanna:              [00:01:13] This whole thing about employee buy-in and commitment, that’s so important for management change initiatives, but why can’t management just decide to do it? And employees do it. They decide, employees carry it out. What’s the deal?


Sean:                [00:01:31] Well, you know, I think a few reasons go into that is that let’s just assume, for argument’s sake, that management is correct in the decision they make, that they, you know, want the change on that they want to bring to meet often enough, even if the employees bought into it. You know, we’re taking an ideal world. The management is correct, the employees buy-in.


Change is still really difficult because the way I put it is that, you know, there are a ton of details, there are – generally, a good kind of change is a very painstaking detail process, and it’s easy to run aground while you’re doing it. And so, even under the best of circumstances, it’s very easy for people to lose their energy and kind of lose their drive in getting that done. So, you know, I think that that’s, you know, one huge barrier right there.


And, you know, also, to me, one of the big things when you’re talking about why can’t employees just do it? You know, there’s that technical factor I bring up.


But the second thing is, to me, there’s just a limit to authority, like, you know, even to me, if you have, you know, North Korean style, you know, authority, to me, authority tends to be self-limiting. And there’s so much that can, you know, go on, you know, underneath – you know, underneath the surface that’ll totally undermine the things you try to do. And the more force you generally bring to a situation, the more resistance you’re going to create while you do it. So, I think those – that’s right. There are two big reasons why, you know, employees, you know, may not actually implement the change that a management wants.


Hanna:              [00:03:10] Well, that’s a sobering thought.




Sean:                [00:03:13] Yeah, well – well, yeah. I mean, any time you’re going to make a change, like someone wants to get healthier, you know, often, there’s just a – there’s a little bit of sacrifice involved in making that change.


And so, you know, to me, you’ve got to count the cost of what you’re doing before you embark on trying to do something. And to me – and actually just acquaint yourself with the idea that you’re going to have to do something more than once.


I’ve got a personal saying that “there’s no such thing as one trip to the hardware store,” and by that, I mean, no matter how well you blueprint something you want to do on your house, and no matter how well you think ahead, and, you know, you think I – I’ve got all my tools, I’ve got all my parts, there’s often something that comes up that requires you to go back to the hardware store.


You know, there’s some issue you didn’t think about. Something breaks. There’s just some unforeseen event or you just forgot something. And so, often, to get something right, you have to repeat yourself and you have to follow up on it. And, you know, to me, if you really get realistic and think about that ahead of time, you know, it’s a little easier to – to make those changes just if you have the expectation of difficulties ahead. But to me – I mean, to me, I don’t care what the changes, for the most part. You know, that’s just what it takes.


Hanna:              [00:04:35] Fair enough. I’m smiling to myself here because, you know, you’re saying about there’s not just one trip to the hardware store. Isn’t that the truth? So…


Sean:                [00:04:45] Yeah.


Hanna:              [00:04:46] …when we put it back into the workplace and…


Sean:                [00:04:50] Yeah.


Hanna:              [00:04:51] …what tips do you have for management to try and limit the number of [Laughter] trips to the hardware store, and the time, and energy and cost that’s involved? How would you counsel them?


Sean:                [00:05:04] The first thing is, you know, increase your chance of being right in the first place. And, you know, because, to me, it’s super easy to be wrong. And this has been observation, not done any kind of double-blind study to validate this.


But I actually say that someone with the IQ of Albert Einstein, they have 30 years of experience, they have the best education, I give them a 60% chance of being right on the first try. You know what I’m saying?


It’s just because, to me, there are just limits to knowledge and there’s limits to information. But – and you know, that might sound like a bad number, but when you think about it, a professional gambler only has to be right 51% of the time and they’ll be rich beyond any kind of dream of avarice you might throw out there.


So, what I’m – you know, I’d bring up the issue of be prepared to do repetition, but try to increase your odds of being right the first time, because you can, you can speed up how many times it takes to get it right.




And one thing I’d recommend, whenever you’re trying to determine what to do, you know, like – well, let’s say this. Before you determine how you’re going to do something, you need to determine what you’re going to do, and it needs to make sense and it needs to have a good priority to it.


And that’s in the book Quantum Lean that I co-authored, that’s one of the issues that’s a big point of that of the book, because Quantum Lean is about – really about making improvements to operations and that can be a manufacturing operation or a service company, or an office. Although there are differences between those three environments really underneath, they rhyme about 80% of the time.


You know, the words don’t match exactly, but they rhyme. And to me, if you take certain principles and look at your problems through that lens you increase your odds of selecting the right problem to work on and the problem that’s going to make sense to your employees, and actually, if you use the right method to look at that problem, then you also increase the chances that the employees are going to buy-in and you’re all going to be pulling on the same direction.



And so, one element that I would say to any business is actually adopt what we call a product-centric view of your business. And by that, you know, you get down to it. People look at business and they say, “I want to improve the profitability. I want to make my shareholders happy. You know, I want to decrease certain costs.” You know, there are all kinds of ways you can look at improving a business.


[00:07:52] But the thing that we found in the book, Quantum Lean, is that if you center your improvement efforts around the product and you just take the view of the product, what’ll end up happening is that you can create improvements that make every stakeholder in a business happy, because what I’ll bring up is think about this.


If I take my product and I reduce the time that that product spends on a factory floor or like the amount of time that paperwork spends in an office, or the amount of time that a customer might spend, you know, calling into a call center, what does that do for the business?


And you start looking at it and you say, “Okay. If like a customer has to spend less time on phone lines, you know, when they’re calling into a call center, the customer is going to be happier.”


But the second issue is, how will the employees feel about that? And the thing I’ll say is that the employees are going to be happy because if you create the conditions where a customer can sail through, you know, like a problem resolution process, then what’ll happen is that you’ve had to create the conditions where the employees are able to work in a smooth environment, you know, an unchaotic environment.


And the other thing is that if you – the customer spends less time in the process, that means that they’re – that the system can accommodate more customers, which means more money to the business.


[00:09:18] And to me, what’s important about the point of making there is that you – if you look at everything from the standpoint of products, time, and fulfillment, you actually create the conditions where the customer can be happy, the ownership can be happy, and the employees can be happy.




Most of the time, when you look at the improvement from any other viewpoint, you create a situation where you’re going to be penalizing somebody else. Like if I’m an employer and I’m looking at how to reduce my labor cost, I’ve suddenly created a conflict with my employees.


If I’m looking at other ways of reducing my business cost, it has a way – it can have a way of antagonizing your customers. Like, an example I’ll bring up there are the airlines. The airlines are an industry that loves to try to make money off the backs of their customers. You know, their business model is if you pay us more, we’ll punish you less.


And so, what happens is if you actually start taking everything from the viewpoint of your product or your service, or your deliverable, you can actually make improvements that are good for everybody, and then that improves your odds of people buying in, and then adopting the change. And I apologize about making that answer so long-winded.


Hanna:              [00:10:32] No, that’s good. You covered a lot of ground.


Sean:                [00:10:33] Yup.


Hanna:              [00:10:34] And I think, there’s a…


Sean:                [00:10:35] Right.


Hanna:              [00:10:35] …lot of good nuggets in there. Some very good takeaways. My question to you is, even if you have management or a team…


Sean:                [00:10:44] Right.


Hanna:              [00:10:44] …of decision makers who are thinking…


Sean:                [00:10:46] Right.


Hanna:              [00:10:47] …through this process as best they can, and they bring in other outside resources to help them think through it…


Sean:                [00:10:55] Right.




Hanna:              [00:10:55] …at what point in the timeline do you recommend bringing the employees in to get more of that employee buy-in and commitment? When the package has a bow on it, or at some earlier stage? What’s your thoughts on that?


Sean:                [00:11:09] Oh, I would totally say early, like ideally, I mean, do you – if it’s coming from the employees and if you create the right conditions, it will come from the employees and they’ll be very good – be very good points because, to me, what the employees have that managers very often don’t have is they have a whole lot of extra information about the situation you want to improve.


The thing that I’ll say as far as bringing employees in on the process, to me, if you actually implement a certain way of looking at problems, and like I say, the product-centric framework is a beautiful supper way of doing it because it’s very simple. It’s a very simple idea and employees, in my experience, 98% of them adopt it. They buy into it immediately, because most employees have to work with the product, and the idea of working in a way that serves the product makes sense to people, and it actually reinforces satisfaction in their job.


Now, when you give people that framework of how to look at a problem, and then how to define what constitutes an improvement, they have all that extra information about their jobs. And if you have the right environment, they’ll be very forthcoming in offering ideas to improve the operation.


So, in a sense, right there, if the employees are coming up with the ideas, your task of getting their buy-in just plummets because, you know, who buys into an idea more than their own idea?




Hanna:              [00:12:41] Absolutely. Absolutely. That’s not just buy-in, you get buy-in and commitment, so those are all very good things. I believe you’ve written somewhere, or somewhere in the materials you sent me, you mentioned something about the importance of properly defining success. How does that get messed up? It would seem, to me, that’s – pretty obvious what success is or should be, but apparently not. So, help me out there.


Sean:                [00:13:13] Well, I – I think one big reason that success can start getting derailed is that how people look at success. Actually, you know, the way you look at it often is at odds with the way someone else looks at success. You know, like all kinds of people have all kinds of different values.


And so, for example, a CEO might look upon, you know, I made a better quarterly profit a success, but if they did it at the expense of their products’ quality, the customer is not going to look at it that way.


And also, I can guarantee you the employees don’t look at it that way, because in my experience, the biggest threat to quality of product, that I’ve seen, comes from management. It doesn’t come from rank-and-file employees. You know, most of the time, rank-and-file employees want to get the product right. It really cuts against their whole sense of rightness if they don’t.


And a lot of times, you know, managers, it’s not that anybody is a bad person, but to me, there are just certain cost pressures that they’ll undergo, and they can often cause others’ perceptions to distort. Because the point that we always bring up in the book Quantum Lean and we bring up to everybody is that the first order of business isn’t to make a profit, it’s to exist. And I’ll know – to me, it’s a very important point.


[00:14:35] Like a lot of businesses, if they suddenly go bankrupt, do they cease to exist? And I’ll say no. Most businesses actually continue on trying to create a situation where they can make money, but if they stop making a profit, you know, and they actually get in such a cash situation that they declare bankruptcy, they’ll still try to go on, like, you know, GM and Chrysler both did that, and a lot of airlines have too, if you see what I’m saying.


So, the point I’m bringing up is that a business has to exist and the only reason for a business to exist is that they’re providing a product or service. If you can define your idea of success in terms of the product, you actually can create a definition of success that everyone can agree on.


Because if you see what I’m saying, if the product gets faster, better, cheaper, the customer is going to love that and the employees are going to love it because you have to create an environment where they’re able to do their job without a lot of distraction and without a lot of headache.


And then, the investors, who wouldn’t love a better, faster, cheaper product. So, you get all of those. But in so many cases, it’s so easy. If you to approach improvement from any other angle, it’s so easy to create conflict. You know, it just – that’s almost inevitable.




Hanna:              [00:15:55] So, from the employee perspective, what do you think is the biggest hiccup when it comes to getting employee buy-in and commitment? Is it the fact that they haven’t done this product-centric framework, or is it something else, just management overriding because of their authority?


Sean:                [00:16:13] I think the latter. I think in most – if you look historically, I think most of the time management decides they want to do something. They don’t necessarily have all the information. To me, the farther you get away from the product or the farther you get away from where things happen, the more gray, the more murky your information and the more murky your lens is.


You know, you’re looking into a dark mirror or however you want to put it. And so, it’s hard – and I don’t care how smart you are or even how knowledgeable you are. If your information is bad, it’s going to be hard to make a good decision.


And so, to me, a lot of times, managers will pass down decisions that don’t make any sense and the employees know that. And so, if your idea doesn’t make sense in the first place, then the chance of buy-in is really pretty bad. And so, I think that’s a big reason for employee resistance. But, you know, also, I think if managers adopted the product-centric approach, I think their chances of making good decisions would go way up, which would then address that rank-and-file resistance.




Hanna:              [00:17:21] Awesome. Awesome. Now, your book, Quantum Lean…


Sean:                [00:17:26] Correct.


Hanna:              [00:17:26] …tell me what prompted you to write that?


Sean:                [00:17:28] Well, all – I – to me, I think a lot of your audience hasn’t really engaged in lean systems, but, you know, throughout the industry and really, in a whole lot of service businesses as well, there’s been a movement called like Lean manufacturing or Lean systems. And it’s – you know, it’s an approach to try to make businesses more efficient, more responsive to the customer. You know, those kinds of ideas.


And the basic ideas of Lean kind of got popularized in the 1990s based on the Toyota production system. Now, I’ve been involved in Lean for approximately 20 years, and the things that I discovered when I first was getting into it is that the people that formulate and explain lean systems, you know, to companies, they created it with mass production in mind, you know, making the same thing over and over.


And, to me, when you formulate things that way, most people don’t do mass production. And so, they have trouble translating the things that the lean practitioners were talking about into some kind of workable everyday idea.


You know, I’ve looked around, and for the most part, I’d say 99% of the lean books and the lean articles that I’ve read don’t give anybody a practicable way of translating lean into their situation. Because, you know, a lot of – a lot of the businesses I was working with really didn’t match up very well with what the books were explaining.


You know, the principles were valid, but there wasn’t a clear path as to how to get there. And so, that’s why Quantum Lean was written is that I – to a large degree, for a lot of businesses, I – I thought that the explanation of lean could stand major improvement, I’ll put it that way.


And I think that this book provides, you know, people with a very good, clear, simple path of getting the benefits that Toyota has gotten with their business model, but they can apply it to all kinds of different businesses.


Hanna:              [00:19:31] Well, that’s definitely good to know, because all size businesses can [Laughter] benefit from some good business philosophies and good business models. So, I appreciate you’re translating that into more everyday terms that businesses that aren’t involved in that gigantic mass production can take advantage of not just in terms of manufacturing, but also services that these things are transferable. Great information.


Thank you for sharing, and also, for providing some great insights about employee buy-in and commitment, so that more businesses can get their change initiatives to be successful and reach the goals that they want.


If you like to contact Sean [Music] and learn more about his work with Lean, how to get more employee buy-in and commitment, and his book, Quantum Lean, you can find that information in the show notes at


And if you know someone who could benefit from today’s conversation, share the link to the show, leave a positive review on your podcast app or at


So, yes, you’ve been listening to Business Confidential Now with Hanna Hasl-Kelchner.


Have a great day and an even better tomorrow. [Music]

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Guest: Sean Fields

Sean Fields

SEAN FIELDS, P.E., LSSBB, MSIE, co-author of Quantum Lean, has over 30 years of experience in a variety of industries, including oil field equipment manufacturing, food processing, and job shops, working in various phases of business, including the shop floor, quality, safety, and engineering.

Sean is a network member of the nonprofit organization BeehiveFund, which assists companies with pro­duction scheduling, inventory control, and developing quality-management systems.

He is also a columnist for the Lub­bock Avalanche Journal and a licensed professional engineer in Texas.

Related Resources:

Contact Sean and connect with him on LinkedIn

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