You Are Either Getting Fitter or You Are Getting Fatter

“The reason I exercise is for the quality of life I enjoy.” – Dr. Kenneth H. Cooper

Unlocking the value in your organization requires constant energy. Probably the most poorly understood factor in change efforts is that efforts cannot stop or the system will fall apart. There is a real lack of appreciation for what is required to keep changed systems operating in good health. A swimmer who stops all activity does not just stop forward progress but actually sinks. Another analogy comes from a local gym; a sign on its door reads: “You are either getting fitter or you are getting fatter.”

Fitter or Fatter?

Most change is built on the effort of people participating in solving problems with a high degree of energy and a learned set of skills. This could be described as being fit. These people have to constantly compete with changing circumstances. Events like new products, new suppliers, and new workers are thrown into the changed process. Those in the system have to solve problems fast enough to keep up with all the variability. Only this level of effort will keep the system working.

Systems break down when inevitable changes occur and the team loses the energy to solve problems. This could be called becoming fatter. The new systems will need to be changed based on the circumstances thrown at them, and when they don’t, they unfortunately break down quickly.  

Even the most visually designed work place with all of the elements of 5S: sort, separate, shine, standardize, and sustain, will begin to drift toward chaos if a tool is relocated and the initial efforts are not followed, like creating a new shadow board or audit form.

Staying in Shape

Participation in problem solving keeps people in shape for noticing deviations from standards, having a culture that can stop and do something about those deviations, and thinking through what just happened in order to investigate a cause to get to a solution.

Practice is important for any athlete even if s/he has demonstrated s/he is in shape for the big game. A coach is valuable as well. Leaders who recognize the need to keep their team in shape and not allow systems to break down have a much better chance to sustain valuable change. 

Help your organization see that it needs to be constantly applying energy to the change process. Help it see when it is losing its edge. Point out the determination quickly while it can still get back in shape. 

Breathe life back into an old phrase – “continuous improvement.”

Learn more in Patrick’s book, “Facilitating Effective Change,” available online through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. He is also the founder of UTV Advisors, a business consulting firm based in Pittsburgh, PA.

Patrick Putorti

Patrick Putorti

Patrick Putorti

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