Good Intentions; Bad Results: Avoid Flavor of the Month Syndrome


Janeen Henning, IpX Chief of Transformation

Have you ever worked on one of those initiatives that you dreaded? 

Did you think to yourself “If I just wait this out, it will go away?”

Was this reaction a result of being satisfied with the way things were working? Or did you feel that the proposed change was going to make the process more difficult?  

Most people who have been in industry for a while have seen “flavor of the month” initiatives and felt some level of discomfort with what was headed their way – they may have been the executive, one of the leaders, one of those impacted, or the project manager.  In each case, the majority of transformations cause anxiety and stress for all involved.  Whether it is a widespread transformation or a small-scale project to improve a process or tool, each brings mixed emotions:   frustration, resignation that you have no choice, disbelief, doubt, optimism, etc.  Change doesn’t normally bring about positive emotions, but optimism is listed because there are some people who are true supporters of continuous improvement or select initiatives and really want to see the organization move forward.  They are hopeful because somebody up higher in the organization agreed with the prospect of making an improvement and really want to see the organization move forward.  They are hopeful because somebody up higher in the organization agreed with the prospect of making an improvement.

IpX Perspective Blog Transformation

An organization introduces a change with great enthusiasm. Leaders gets excited and the future is going to be bright. But despite best efforts, many well-intentioned initiatives become a “flavor of the month”. We may have been convinced that a particular initiative would not become the latest flavor of the month but unfortunately, it did.

In the lean management industry, continuous improvement is known as Kaizen.  Kaizen is typically a project of very short duration with the goal of improving a process, often performed in a week or less and involving the workers of the process being studied.  These kaizen events require upfront planning just as a large transformation does, but the scale is typically much smaller.  The Kaizen framework is known as 5S:  

  • Sort (eliminate obstacles, remove unnecessary items)
  • Set in order (tools, equipment, processes set up efficiently for ease of use, consider FIFO)
  • Shine (daily cleaning, inspection, consider monitoring for rework)
  • Standardize (implement standard work using best practices)
  • Sustain (follow and monitor standard work using defined processes including roles and responsibilities)

The large projects need to consider the same elements but with deeper study, additional steps, and obviously more time.  They are usually part of a different environmental background, especially in a transactional lean setting, but each are worthy of consideration.  Often these large projects are isolated from continuous improvement and are driven by external influences (such as technology changes), business needs, or internal studies.

Equating Kaizen to large initiatives, here are some key elements:

  • Sort (interview the teams and find out what is not working, where the bottlenecks are located)
  • Set in order (create an improved process flow proposal and socialize it)
  • Shine (develop a method to monitor the process to ensure built-in-quality at incremental steps)
  • Standardize (once confirmed via a pilot and team reviews, document the new process and launch)
  • Sustain (develop governance to ensure the new process is followed and monitor for adjustments and improvements)

As mentioned, these large projects and transformations have natural resistance.  Some foundational items need to be in place to avoid good intentions becoming a flavor of the month:

  • Leadership alignment and active support
  • A culture that supports and values change
  • Credible and trustworthy change leaders
  • Clear goals, vision, and scope
  • Sufficient funding
  • Separate staffing for those executing the change
  • Understanding and addressing the concerns of the workers impacted
  • Effective communication “What’s in for me?” is answered up front for all levels
  • Foundational knowledge of the current “As-Is” and future state “To-Be”

As a leader over transformation, you risk a lot when you become a member of the flavor of the month club.  Some possible negative outcomes:  

  • The transformation in culture will fail.
  • You likely will lose the support of key employees jaded by the promise of change that goes unfulfilled.
  • This will take a negative hit on organizational credibility and sometimes on your credibility when people don’t understand the root cause of failure.

Lasting change
starts with a well aligned executive team. Any initiative needs to be visibly directed by the company’s leadership. They must talk about it with passion and belief and reiterate it in their messages. When others see the executives actively and constantly supporting the plan, they will buy in. Direct leadership engagement in discussions about concerns is typically highly valuable.

In addition, making too much change at once is a major risk – the changes have to be aligned and linked appropriately where necessary, the workforce has to be able to support and understand the changes, and the change team needs to be sufficiently staffed to handle all elements of the transformation.  This is often not well-managed and creates disillusionment among those impacted, often leading to failure.  Leaders can easily overestimate the organization’s ability to manage multiple changes, may not recognize that this is a major risk, and may not have appropriate countermeasures.

You risk failure when attempting to change on an unstable base. “Standardize, then improve.”

One lesson learned from a lean sensei continues to resonate throughout transformation journeys: “Standardize, then improve.”  Trying to improve something that is not standardized and make it sustainable is extremely difficult.   There are too many variables.  Where possible, spend the time to create that common, well-documented and well-understood base for future change.  This offers the opportunity for better organizational alignment and the ability to really know what the impact of the change will be for the team.  Trying to change on an unstable base makes the work much more difficult and you risk failure of the change.  Since it is extremely important to hear the voices of those impacted by the change, those voices will be coming from different perspectives and will compound the work needing to be done.  Some of the other elements of change (the check and act steps in plan/do/check/act) to ensure ongoing compliance will be even more critical as the change team may have missed some best practices or just didn’t understand all the reasons for resistance and develop countermeasures.

Despite the treacherous journey, there are many transformations that are extremely worthwhile and that can address organizational issues of inefficiency, rework, and customer satisfaction that become the catalyst for organizational optimism.  The journey is worth the conflict, pain, and investments when you identify a worthy goal and can successfully address the obstacles along the way.  If you bring the stakeholders along with you on that journey, the team will wonder how they managed without the initiative.  You can satisfy your stakeholder needs and create positive change – lots of homework is required for those big initiatives but once the homework is done and the team is in place, you can make it happen! It is wise to align “good intentions” with the appropriate actions to maximize the probability of leading successful initiatives and achieving desired results.


At IpX - Institute for Process Excellence, we provide unbiased, third-party guidance and fact-based analysis to your organization’s goals and objectives. We partner with you to provide process standardization, change and configuration management, best practices, and training and certification that meets your business needs. No matter the size, IpX can engage with your project at any stage with flexible fit-for-purpose service options. Contact us to get started.

AUTHOR: Janeen Henning

With more than 35 years at APTIV (formerly Delphi) as a cross-functional leader, Janeen brings a wealth of experience across Operations, Purchasing, Engineering, Product Line Management, Portfolio Management, Configuration Management, and Contract Manufacturing. Her previous roles as Program Manager, Systems Engineering Manager, and Global Configuration Management Manager consisted of managing and training international teams, complex problem solving, driving increased cycle and production times, and providing detailed customer engagement.

Janeen’s most recent position as Global PMO Manager and Launch Excellence Manager included performing escalation management for senior leadership and creating risk management processes. She supported more than 200 project managers and leaders in 14 global design centers along with training, coaching, process assessment, project reviews, global project coordinator leadership, and launch readiness. Janeen holds a Master of Science Degree in Manufacturing Management from Kettering University, completed Six Sigma Black Belt training, and a CM2-Comprehensive certification. Connect with Janeen Henning on LinkedIn.

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