Economist John Kenneth Galbraith stated, “Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.”  These words ring loudly and clearly during Lean Healthcare Kaizen Events.  During these rapid change sessions, Lean Healthcare Change-Agents are typically barraged with unsubstantiated data-points cloaked in the lexicon of the Defenders of the Status Quo.  You may have heard them before…“We’ve tried this”, or “That won’t work here because”, and, my personal favorite, “We’re different”.  I share with you a simple phrase that can be a very effective problem solving tool in combating this resistance to change – “Yes, if”, instead of “No, because”.

I was introduced to this concept approximately nine years ago from a colleague and fellow Lean advocate.  This brilliant yet simple statement provides a great recalibration of one’s mindset from the negative to the affirmative.  “Yes, we can reach that intended Future State if…” now becomes the substitute for “No, we cannot do that here because…”.  As my colleague was not the author nor did he know who was, I am not sure exactly who to thank for these words of wisdom.  I am vaguely familiar with a book written in 2006 by former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Nancy Desmond that sites the effective use of this phrase in transformations.  Still, the originator of this valuable nugget is unclear.  Regardless of its origin, the applicability of these words in Lean Healthcare implementation is immense.  Effective application of this terminology provides a unique counter to the traditional resistors of change while empowering all team members with a simple and impacting way to approach problem solving.

Best used…Early and often:
Successful Kaizen (or rapid improvement) events rely on the ability of participants to channel their innate apprehension to change, by relentlessly focusing on waste identification and elimination.  Thus, the most effective use of the “Yes, if” instead of “No, because” phrase is to make it a guiding principle or team expectation.  Establish with your team early-on that the spirit of solution-finding is to be pursued at all times.  

How used…As a teaching devise, not a stick:
Even with a solid introduction, it will be necessary for the Kaizen facilitator and/or team leader to remind participants to stay on the path of “Yes if…”.  But do so with the intent to remind and not reprimand.  This reminder emphasizes morale, respect and empowerment for every employee, which are fundamental tenets of Kaizen.  When apprehension and doubt arise regarding the feasibility of a Future State action item, simply ask the team for the “Yes if…” to its counter.  Now, all parties are refocused on a potential solution and you didn’t have to alienate anyone in the process. 

There is always room in Lean Healthcare for a simple tool that will help to refocus and refuel.  Strategic use of this phrase opens the door for true “robust dialogue” that will ensure all perspectives and potential solutions have been heard.  For years I have received positive feedback from using this phrase and I share it with as many people as possible.  Inevitably, I am asked, “Will this phrase work when dealing with passive dissenters and outright C.A.V.E. (Citizen’s Against Virtually Everything) people?”  My answer is simple and clear…Yes if.

This week’s blog was written by Matthew Davis. Matthew has nearly 20 years of professional experience, with many years devoted to Lean in a manufacturing and supply chain environment at Cummins, Inc.  Since being exposed to the Toyota Production System, Matthew has effectively facilitated Kaizen, Point Kaizen & 2P events, Value Stream Map training and implementation sessions, as well as 5-S and SMED globally (Brazil, France, Mexico, South Africa and the U.S.). Matthew’s functional expertise spans strategic and tactical experience in operations, sales, supply chain management and human resources. He also has leadership experience with diversity in management consulting and higher education roles. Matthew is recognized as an innovative change-agent, analytical team builder and motivational driver of results.  As a results-driven leader, he has the capacity to analyze and solve complex business problems utilizing a disciplined, data-driven approach.  Matthew is a graduate of Pitzer College with a bachelors in Political Studies, and Vanderbilt University with a Masters in Business Administration. He  is a certified Six Sigma Sponsor and Green Belt trained, and is a Certified Facilitator of Lean on the Shop Floor for Kaizen/Kaizen Blitz Events, 2P, 5-S, and Value Stream Mapping.

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