Einstein once said, "Insanity is doing what you have always done and expecting different results."

This couldn't be more relevant when it comes to sustaining the improvement process. 5S events and auditing systems are not enough. In order to improve, behavior has to change in every member of the company. First, changes must come from leadership.

  1. Identify the behaviors that will be required to sustain 5S. Don't trivialize this. You should spend time as a leadership team discussing and planning on what you want. It is also important that every leader agree to hold people accountable for the behaviors that you have defined. Communicate the expectations you have defined with great clarity and in different formats
  2. Show and tell people what you expect from them. Behavioral change is personal and only happens when people decide it is worthwhile. In addition, people will interpret your commitment to 5S in part by how much energy you put into it. A small amount of energy will be interpreted as a small level of commitment. The more employees see your changes, the more likely they will be to follow the improvements.
  3. Change your behavior. People will pay much more attention to what you do than what you say, so you must act in a way that tells them you mean what you are saying. This goes for the entire leadership team. Audits and steering committee meetings are not the tools to deal with non-conformance. Counterproductive behaviors need to be dealt with in person at the instant they are observed. If a manager or supervisor isn't dealing with behaviors, give them the choice to change or remove them if they aren’t willing or able. In contrast, be sure to recognize and reward people who are doing the right things. Communicate examples of success with enthusiasm and offer praise to the early adopters.

These activities may seem like more work than it's worth, but they are not. While the process of behavior change is front-end loaded and full of challenges, the returns on cultural change are enormous and almost impossible for your competitors to replicate. Also, keep in mind that behavior changes apply to almost any form of worthwhile improvement strategy.

In fact, I recently had the privilege of meeting with a leader who is making tremendous progress. He said, "If you're not focused on changing behavior, beginning with yourself, you're faking it."