5 Psychological Factors affecting 5S Implementation in Office

There are several psychological factors that make the change in individuals a challenging process. Knowing these factors could prove to be advantageous to a person leading the change. In this article, I would like to explore some of these factors that affect the transformation we try to bring using 5S implementation.

These are by no means all the factors that affect 5S or any change process (there may be much more). They are just a starting point for us to explore the human side of the change process.

You may be able to see all these 5 factors or may be more or less during an implementation of the 5S. Though I have the bias towards certain factors, a proper scientific study may be required to know which are the most dominant in a particular work environment.

Why is 5S difficult to implement in the office environment?

One of the purposes of the 5S implementation is to get rid of the unnecessary items in the workplace (may it be on the shop floor or in the office). This purpose can be clearly understood and mostly implemented on the shop floor. Usually, there is the clear understanding of what is required at a particular workstation (tools, raw material, etc. assuming that there is some standardized process in place).

But the office environment is different. A person in office is not always doing the same job throughout the day. The work is not standard in most cases (especially if you do not have leader standard work or some form of a standard process). So this makes it difficult do judge what items are required and what are not. This leaves the decision to the discretion of the person at the office space or the supervisor or auditor who will guide them.

Ultimately they have to standardize and continuously improve the workspace and the processes that they do. But the first attempt at 5S is usually more challenging because you will face resistance from people. The resistance could be due to various reasons. One of the reasons is that we are telling people to change the way they work and in a way they think. But how and why that makes it difficult to them is the question we need to ask to deal with this resistance.

Which Items are to be sorted out?

One of the challenges is to make people keep only the things that they need on the desks and in their drawers. This often is perceived as an attack on personal space of the people involved.

Now, there are various debates about how many personal items( photo frames, souvenirs, certificates etc.) can be allowed to each individual. I think it does not matter as long as those things don’t get into the way of their work. Sometimes, those items could be the inspiration for the work. After all, we are humans and emotions play a big part in the way we make decisions and take actions. A family portrait may help a father of three (aspiring to put his kids through college) to remember the reason why he is putting all the effort at work. This makes deciding what stays and what goes a difficult choice.

So I propose an alternate approach. In this approach, we (people responsible for a change) educate ourselves and the people who are undergoing change. We try to understand the mindsets or the psychological factors that are affecting us  and preventing us from undergoing the change.  The next step beyond this would be to identify ways to overcome these biases in an effective way.

In this case, the change is letting go items that we no longer need. Below I will discuss 5 mindsets that prevent us from letting go.


Why we cling to things?

1. Endowment Effect:

There are many interesting stories about this effect. A wine-loving economist, not willing to sell a vintage wine bottle, which is worth several times more than purchased price. He thinks it is worth more than what market is willing to pay. Here’s another article about how this author’s husband is wanting to sell his used parka (coat) for twice the market price, interestingly he would not have paid the price he is demanding if was to purchase the same item.

It is also portrayed in the experiment carried out in the classroom by Daniel Kahneman at Cornell University. The students were given coffee mugs and later told to sell them to their classmates. Surprisingly the new mug owners were asking for a price several times higher than what the non-mug owners were willing to pay.

The endowment effect is the bias that makes the owner of the object put the high value to an object by the mere act of possessing it. This perceived value make it very difficult for the owner to let go that item even if someone is willing to pay the fair price for it. It was, I believe, one of the reasons why I had kept my first laptop computer for over 5 years after it had stopped working!


2. Status Quo Bias:

Status-Quo bias is the preference for the current state. Here the individual perceives any change from the current state as a loss.

In experiments and subsequent paper by Samuelson, W.; Zeckhauser, R. (1988) shows that people usually prefers to stay with their status quo. This is reason sometimes people will maintain their old insurance plan even when a better alternative is available.

In office space, you may see people stick to their old routine despite the new process being more simple and fast. It may also lead to people not giving up their old bulky furniture or piece of equipment, just because they have been using it that way for a long time. Status Quo bias combined with endowment effect and Loss aversion (discussed below) becomes a very strong reason to cling to objects


3. Loss Aversion:

Loss aversion refers to people’s preference to avoid losses or acquiring gains. What it means is that people will try to avoid a loss of something more than wanting to gain something. This was first demonstrated by Kahneman, Daniel; Tversky, Amos in 1984. The loss aversion is believed to be almost twice as powerful than gains.

As we have seen above, status-quo change can be perceived as a loss. And, the loss is something that people strongly want to avoid. This may prevent them from letting go something despite knowing the benefits that clean organized working environment will provide.


4. Fear of Regret:

Fear of regret has to do with avoiding loss. Usually, it is a bias that we experience when we believe that we may regret losing something that may have some value of future.

Have you kept receipts of restaurants you had visited 3 years ago? Maybe you still have a musical instrument that you bought during college years with a hope that you will learn to play it. You don’t want to get rid off those receipts, as you may be afraid that very next day you may need them for some tax filling. And, you still believe that someday you will get the opportunity to learn that musical instrument. Chances of both these events happening are extremely rare and yet we will not part away those objects.

Now, you will see that more than one of these biases may be affecting you at the same time. Like in the case of a musical instrument it could also be the endowment effect that is making it difficult to part with.


5. Scarcity Error:

Scarcity error results when we put more value to an object that we perceive to be scarce. This is prevalent in the people who collect old stamps or Vintage cars (well sometimes they are worth a lot, but the utility is questionable). But can also be seen in more common objects in office settings.  There are various types of scarcity as explained here

I have seen people keep old Floppy disks even though they have no means to use them. It may be some other old office equipment or item that people will not let go because no it may be no longer available. Thus making it scarce.

This error in judgments can happen with any common objects you have in your office space. It does not always have to be the extreme cases of having on to the 1960 model of a manual typewriter or one of those calculators, which print out on a roll of paper. You may be clinging to innocent looking documents, periodicals, samples and any other object, which you perceive as one of its kinds.



I hope this has opened your mind to a new perspective on the behavior of people you are trying to engage in continuous improvement. Besides the knowledge of the work that we do our ability to influence change in people depends on our deep understanding of the psychology of human behavior. Thus, a good change agent is a student of psychology.

Is the Improvement Overwhelming You?

The numbers of improvements we need to do are so many …. I do not know where to start

This is a concern that I have heard from more than one business owners or managers. I mostly work with small and medium sized businesses and I am always surprised that they find their problems overwhelming. Imagine company of the size of Toyota. How can they continuously improve despite their complex processes and products?

Understanding Continuous Improvement

In my opinion, the difference lies in understanding what continuous improvement is. Many people, who do not get it, thinks we need to improve everything at once in a day or two. Hence, they get overwhelmed with this idea. Continuous improvement happens every day in small steps getting closer and closer to perfection.  It may be a very small improvement like what Paul Akers show in the video below. However, continuously doing small improvements every day, everywhere with everyone we can tackle big issues. We do not need to solve every one of our problems but only the ones that matter.

Move to Gemba

One of the key lessons I have heard from many lean thinkers and practitioners is that you have to move the leaders to the gemba. Doing your gemba walk for improvements daily and observing the “three reals” is a great way for the leader to synchronize with what is going on in the company and align everyone to one direction. Discipline to do this every single day is the challenge faced by many leaders who then find the situation to be overwhelming.

Build a Culture of continuous Improvement

Other lesson I have learned is that the leaders should focus on building a teams of people who can solve problems.  The leaders need to learn to develop people for continuously improving our products and processes. Thus, the leaders are responsible to build a culture of continuous improvement. It is by building a culture of continuous improvement we can tackle that overwhelming number of improvements, as everyone will be working on it.

Guest Post: Improving Employee Productivity through Security

Antonio Ferraro
Antonio Ferraro

Author BIO – Antonio Ferraro – On behalf of Creative Safety Supply based in Portland, OR (www.creativesafetysupply.com). Antonio strive to provide helpful information to create safer and more efficient industrial work environments. His knowledge base focuses primarily on practices such as 5S, Six Sigma, Kaizen, and the Lean mindset. He believe in being proactive and that for positive change to happen, we must be willing to be transparent and actively seek out areas in need of improvement. An organized, safe, and well-planned work space leads to increased productivity, quality products and happier employees.


It is natural human nature to perform better, feel more comfortable, and generally be more motivated to participate in activities when a person feels secure. However, feeling secure in an environment takes time; most people are not able to feel truly secure within just a few days. In order for a sense of security to be built, a level of trust and rapport must be constructed between people as well as the environment as a whole. This belief also holds true within a work environment. Nonetheless, the unfortunate truth is that many managers use “fear” to drive their employees instead of security. Fear is a powerful feeling that can be incorrectly utilized to motivate employees into preforming quicker, or to make less mistakes, or even just to keep their jobs. From the outside, it is pretty easy to see that using fear as a motivational tactic completely abolishes any sense of employee security. When fear is used as a driving force behind increasing production, employees often begin to hate the object of their fear that turns out to be the manager. Managers who incorporate the tactic of fear in an attempt to increase productivity often experience less than desired results, as employees tend to be less committed to quality and often silently rebel against the manager’s wishes.

Creating Employee Security

As mentioned earlier, building employee security takes time, however, it is often well worth the effort. Why use fear as a motivational tactic when you can use empowerment? Some key factors involved in building employee security and creating empowerment include communication, clear expectations, trust, and a safe work environment.

  • Communication

Step one communication is the key. Without proper communication, employees may feel more like pawns in a game of chess, just being moved strategically without any input whatsoever. Who are the people that are out working with products, processes, and equipment nearly every day? The employees! Employees are like an untapped treasure trove of valuable information for process and product improvements. If there is a hold-up or ongoing issue somewhere within production, most times the employees knew about it way before top management staff did. The need for open communication to share thoughts and ideas is vital to the livelihood and continued success within a company.

  •  Clear Expectations

Furthermore, clear expectations are also imperative to building security. When people know what is expected of them they operate towards the objective using more enthusiasm and passion. For instance, imagine that an urgent order was coming through for a business requesting 1,000 brake pads, the manager needs the order fulfilled and ready to ship within 2 days. Which way would be better to communicate the expectations to employees? Option 1: The manager tells employees they need to get a large order of brake pads out within a few days and that he needs employees to work as quickly as possible for the next few days.  Option 2: The manager gathers the employees for a short meeting and communicates to employees that a large urgent order of 1,000 brake pads has come in, the order needs to be out and ready to ship within two days with zero defects. Then the manager asks for any sort of ideas or thoughts before production begins. I think the obvious choice is option 2. The pure and simple truth is that people work better and feel more secure when communication and expectations are valued.

  •  Trust and Safe Work Environment

Lastly, trust and a safe work environment go hand-in-hand. Employees need to feel that they can trust their employer and managers to do what is in the best interest of the company as well as the employees. Trust is a two way street, managers need to trust that employees are working efficiently in regards to production, and employees need to trust that the managers believe in them and their quality of work as well. The employer and managers should also strive to create a safe work environment for employees as well. When employees feel safe within the work environment, they also feel a sense of security.

In a nutshell, security is not something that is automatically felt by people; it is more of an earned sense of safety that takes time to create. However, a company cannot truly become great without secure and empowered employees. In order to create an efficient and effective work environment with top rate production levels, employees need to feel secure.


The Truth about Lean Failures

The truth is, most lean implementations are a failure over long duration. The reasons could be many. However, some of them are the major causes, as identified by the people involved in the implementation. They may be the right or maybe these are just the symptoms. We have to find the root cause in our own organisation.

I did a survey last week and here are some of the top reasons for lean failures as per the readers of this blog. Thanks to all who contributed their valuable time to answer the survey. It was very insightful.  You too can spare just a minute to answer the survey here.

Top Management

  • Does not walk the talk
  • Does not buy in
  • Does not support the process
  • They are not committed
  • Lacks the leadership qualities
  • Fears loss of power or resources


  • Mindset change for the people
  • What’s in it for me
  • Resistance to change
  • Lack of understanding
  • Engagement
  • Responsibility without  Authority
  • Change agents not talking in their language


  • Is related to the culture and top management
  • People Lack Skills for implementation
  • Project thinking and not embracing it as a lifestyle
  • Random  application of tools
  • Did not consider continuous learning as part of the process


Are they really the cause of failure?

Be careful do not jump to conclusions here. Failure and success are pit stops on the journey of continuous improvement.  So do not dwell on this too much. It is good to know the reason so that you can figure out ways to counteract it. Learn from failure and find a way to succeed.

When you think something was the cause of failure, dig deeper. Find the root cause. It may be something else. If you jump on the first thing that comes to your mind then there are chances that you may be on the wrong boat.

For Top Management, ask if you are just blaming them for your failure. If they are responsible then what was the cause. Were they educated on the benefits? Did you get a buy in? What qualities do they lack? How can you sell the idea to them?

For culture, is the whole group prepared for the big change?  What does your culture lack?  Do leaders respect and engage people at all level? Do people with responsibility given the authority to change? Do you see improvement activities as value or as cost?

For Sustainability, Is this just a temporary phase? Can you learn from this experience and make the changes stick the next time?

So What is the Truth?

Are you part of failed Lean implementation? Hey, do not worry. You are not alone. Almost all of us have been there. It is a part of the process.

There few failures before you succeed. Moreover, if you do not take effort to sustain there can be a failure after the big success. The success and failure come and go. We see companies as successful ones, when they have far more successes than failures. Even the big companies like Toyota have failed, but they did not stop there. The truth is only persistence matters. So take actions, fail fast to succeed fast.

Other truth is the way we think. We (mostly the western world) have the mindset of result-focused approach. Nothing wrong in having goals, but the problem lies in the means to achieve the goals (More about this here). Under traditional management, people who focus on the means are not always recognized. Like one of the person in survey said, “They promote the heroes- fire fighters …” These people achieve some incredible results, which are only short term and neither try to solve or prevent the issues from happening in the future

What is your Story?

People always want to hear about successes. However, there is lot to learn from failures too. I would love to hear your story about a failure. Were any of these reasons responsible? What did you do about it?

Become a Good Manager: Simplify your Work-Space

In the previous post we talked about focusing on changing ourselves before starting the change in the company. Learning to change and adapt to meet the new challenges is the key to lead and survive any major transformation process. But how do we start changing ourselves?  This is the question we will try to answer today. This is by no mean a complete or the only way to transform your habits to become a good manager but it provides a starting point to one aspect that you see and use every day.

Why to Simplify your Work-Space

Our work space tells us a lot about how we work. If your desk is over crowed with documents, unwanted samples and other things then it is clear how disorganized you are. If that is your state imagine you preaching others on shop floor or office to be organized. It will be hard to gain their confidence. How about applying 5s to your office/desk?

Applying 5S in Office

The following presentation provides a guide to applying 5S to your office/desk. You can use it to improve your work area. The purpose of going through this exercise is beyond mere cleanup of your desk. It builds the right habits necessary to develop mindset for continuous improvement. So try it out and if you do great please share your success stories by sending us your before and after pictures.

Remember this is just the starting point and we will learn lot more as we practice daily.

Become a Good Manager: Change Yourself Before Changing Others

Before you start on any change process like Lean you have to understand yourself and what you want. You have to focus on one thing that is important. Understanding and experiencing the change yourself is the only path to become a good change agent. Thus the focus is changing you.

The changes that need to be done in most organizations, big or small, are of almost revolutionary nature. If you do not prepare yourself for the war you will be destroyed the first day you set foot into the battle.

The changes that will take or should take place are not merely physical. You have to prepare yourself to change the way people behave and think. Changing the way you behave and think may need to be changed. For this you need to have an open mind. We had previously discussed the exercise to clear your mind here. This readies you to learn new things.

The next step is learning how to simplify and minimize.

“Perfection is achieved ,not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away” – Antoine De Saint-Exupery


“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” – Leonardo Da Vinci

Did that thought worry you? Are you afraid of letting go something? This is exact same fear going through the minds of people you are trying to change. As leader you have to understand the psychology to be more effective change agent.  The core of lean is about understanding what is of value and what is not. You should practice it in your daily life and work before you start preaching it to others.

So what do you think should be minimized and simplified?

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Sit and Stand-up Workstation

This is a  interesting concept of sit and stand workstation by Herman Miller. I recently moved into full time independent consulting and have been looking for work desk for my home office. I have been using Stand-up Station and a separate sitting desk at my work place for well over an year. But this combine the two into one. Of course there are simple ways to convert your standard sitting desk into stand up station, like by putting a box or bunch of books on the table to raise the laptop to standing height.