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.