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Part 2: Overcoming Your Resistance to Change with Work Instructions

By: Simon Spencer

February 26, 2020

Part 2: Overcoming Your Resistance to Change with Work Instructions

Your company has thousands of processes in place. Some are documented, while many others are wandering around in your employee’s heads. The question is: How on Earth can you prioritize capturing those undocumented processes for your organization amidst resistance to change?

In part 1 of the series, How to Retain Employee Knowledge Before You Lose It, we talked about losing your know-how and the best way to prevent that from having negative effects on your organization.

In this follow-up article, we focus on overcoming the fear associated with prioritizing, planning and finally executing the effort to stop the knowledge.

Fearing the Barriers

Resistance to change, fear of implementation… No matter the name, it can be an intense experience. Our natural desire to avoid that discomfort can delay or even prevent positive change from taking hold.

In terms of documenting processes and preventing knowledge loss, there are very clear barriers. Or what we can affectionately refer to as Progress Monsters that trigger fear and hesitation. These must be overcome if we are to even begin the journey.

Do any of these sound familiar to you?

  • The team is already at capacity with other projects
  • The project will simply take too long to complete
  • The project involves many people across the company
  • We are already successful now, why do we need to take on this project?
  • The leadership team doesn’t clearly understand the value

Overcoming the Resistance to Change

Overcoming and defeating your fear of implementation is crucial to defeating the Progress Monster. But it can be especially difficult for organizations to experience all of these conditions at the same time.

That being said, you’ll see now how each of these barriers are interrelated, and how being smart about the approach can help you overcome the resistance to change:

  1. First, prioritize each barrier in a way that builds momentum early. In other words, grab the low hanging fruit. The Progress Monster will not like this at all.
  2. Then, identify where this effort can fit into existing projects. One mistake is viewing documenting processes as a separate project when in reality, it’s likely a component of ongoing work.
  3. Then, focus on building Senior Leadership buy-in by explaining how effective we were at simplifying and scoping the work that needs to be done. Last and most importantly, understand the opportunity cost of letting the Progress Monster win by doing nothing.

What Happens When You Give Into the Fear

When it comes to raising productivity and optimizing processes, the concept of Lean Six Sigma usually comes up. With it, there are also 8 Wastes that come into play and are also the tools by which the Progress Monster makes your company less competitive -- assuming you let it win!

Each of the eight can be directly or indirectly worsened with poor process documentation. Keep in mind these 8 Wastes of Lean as we dive deeper into overcoming the resistance to change:

  1. Defects
  2. Overproduction
  3. Underutilized Talent
  4. Transportation
  5. Inventory
  6. Extra Processing
  7. Waiting
  8. Motion


On average, it takes an employee 10-14 months to get up-to-speed within a company. They have to absorb all the information being provided to them from each person that they meet. They also have to figure out which process is actually correct and then begin to apply it. In the last 10 years, the average US manufacturing turnover rate has been 27.2%. If yours is similar to this amount, then you are sure to be trekking up that learning curve and losing 3 out of every 10 employees every year.

Getting up to Speed from a Productivity Point of View

Average Employee Productivity

If you then take the average productivity of each of your employees, including the learning curves for each new employee, you then end up with an interesting number.

The fact that 3 out of 10 employees are on a learning curve each year means that your company will average 77% productivity!

Even if your turnover rate isn’t as high as this one (lucky you!), there are still productivity gains to be had.

Let’s say you take two of your best employees, who both have the same level of experience, skill, and expertise and give them the same job. Now, give the first employee work instructions, but don’t give your second employee any instructions at all.

Getting employee up to speed

On average, you'll notice that an employee using work instructions achieves 89.4% productivity per part completed compared to just 74.5% productivity when not using any instructions at all. And remember these are your best employees!

So what’s the difference between using work instructions and not using any at all? By using them, you have clearly documented, precise instructions that tell your employees exactly what to do and when.

There is nothing left to remember. No time is lost digging through drawings or asking anyone questions. Even with 3 out of 10 employees turning over each year, your company will still average 92% productivity!

Productivity With & Without Work Instructions

Instead of losing know-how, you are building up your knowledge and improving continuously. By documenting your processes, you can improve your overall productivity by approximately 15%.

Using Work Instructions

More importantly, your company receives every employee’s input. This means that you don’t just get work instructions -- you also get your best practices. In both cases, getting new employees up to speed, maximizing their efficiency, and documenting your processes gives you big benefits. In the middle of all, don’t forget it’s also important to consider what a work instruction is and isn’t.

92% Average Productivity

Even with 3 out of 10 employees turning over each year, your company will average 92% productivity!

Instead of resisting change and losing your know-how, you are building up your knowledge and improving continuously. By documenting your process, you can improve your overall productivity by approximately 15%.


If we go back to our previous example of your two best employees doing the same job, but one with work instructions and the other without, there is another benefit to remember when overcoming your resistance to change.

In reality, the employee without work instructions would have missed an integral component from the job. This means that all the parts would have been rejected by the customers and would have caused them all to come back and need to be fixed.

The tangible costs for this are easy to calculate: the cost for shipping the parts from and to your customer, the cost of unpacking, inspecting, fixing and repacking.

But what about the intangibles? The loss of your customers’ confidence and the risk that their next opportunity goes to your competitors. Those costs are very difficult to grasp, but one thing is for sure, you must avoid them at your own peril.

Data from an actual company that successfully deployed electronic work Instructions showed their reject rate drop from 14,250 DPM to 1,752 DPM.

DPM - Defects per million = (qty of rejected parts / qty of sold parts) x 1,000,000

This impressive reject reduction of 88% is great on the surface. But consider the cascading benefits to the organization from a repair & rework standpoint and the resulting increase in profitability. The company spent just a few years taking their pre-existing drawings and building effective work instructions that they now only need to update every once in a while.

Defect Reduction

As shown, each step makes significant improvements. From using no work instructions and being resistant to change, to switching to paper work instructions and then going towards paperless work instructions and finally, connecting smart tools to them.

But, customer rejects are just the tip of the ‘Cost of Non-Quality’ iceberg. Approximately 10% of all costs are related to rejects from your customers. The remaining 90% of rejects happen within your facility.

If work instructions can benefit your customers, they can also benefit you! Equally, the 88% reduction in rejects can also be passed along to each department within your facility. Instead of wasting time and money fixing things, you can be investing time and money into further improvements.

What Should You Really Be Thinking?

So, can you afford to NOT document your process? Can you afford to let new employees take a year to get up-to-speed? What about when you consider that documenting your processes can reduce get them up-to-speed in the matter of just a few months or weeks? Can you afford to miss out on a productivity gain of 15% and make your best employees even better? Can you afford to let bad products reach your customer instead of reducing your customer and internal rejections tenfold?

At the end of the day, being resistant to change only hurts your company. You need to embrace implementing well-documented processes given the benefits of digital work instructions.

In reality, you should actually fear not implementing and the debilitating costs of doing nothing!

Every small step creates a massive change.

As the popular saying goes, “If you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you have always got.”

When all is said and done, making small improvements is always better than resisting change and doing nothing. Instead of fearing change, you need to forge ahead.

The best way to start a mammoth job is to break it up into small chunks. Implement documenting your processes in a specific small location, for example, a single department or a single work cell. Then, focus on improving your processes and calculating the tangible benefits.

Once everyone sees the results, you can move to the next department and expand across your entire facility. In the end, the best solutions drive themselves.

Notes About Productivity

Productivity can be very subjective. Consider this possible formula: 100% - ((Time actually taken - Planned time)/Planned time) x100%) = Productivity.

Let’s say, an employee takes 300 seconds to produce a part with a planned time of 270 seconds:

Employee Productivity

Keep in mind that all these calculations are based upon your planned time.

Here’s where your problem is: Your planned time is based on your current best methods of doing things. Or in a lot of cases, it is based on bad methods because no one is really sure how to do it.

Again, here is where the benefits of documenting your processes come in. You know your process and you know how long it takes to achieve a task.

If you update your processes each time a suggestion is made, you will see the effect on your planned time! Instead of guessing, you will know what your changes achieve.

With contributions from Shannon Bennett.