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Coal, Cost and Culture: Where do you fall on the “Hope Curve”?

Oilfield Technology,

I have been consulting in process improvement and culture change for 13 years. Each client’s scope of work has been different in magnitude, focus, number of people involved and in the goals to be achieved. With many different clients came many different cultures and many different management philosophies. In every case, we were able to change performance and culture, but the degree of success varied. To analyze the inconsistent results, I looked back at the expectations attached to each scope of work. 

There are generally two sets of expectations that come with a change initiative:

1.     Senior management’s expectations about performance improvements (included in the scope of work).

2.     The “unspoken” expectations of an organization’s hope for change when an outsider shows up to lead and facilitate change. This set of expectations:

a.     Extend into lower levels of management and the workforce and are as real as the people who owned them.

b.     Are greater if morale was low.

c.     Involve hope for

-        The lifting of spirits,

-        Speaking freely about problems,

-        Trusting people that have been “untrustable” for too long,

-        Working with people who believe your problems are just as important as their problems, and

-        Experiencing the joy of working with others that strive for their best every single day.

d.     Are critical factors in success with process improvement and culture change. If ignored, cause improvements to be unsustainable or at least compromised.

e.     Reflect management team effectiveness. Without a change in management involvement and intentional management actions to address these expectations, it is never possible to bring the kind of change needed or hoped for.

Hope is both a leading and lagging management KPI for change.

When a new client asks me to work with them, I spend my first few days on site getting to know the people and the issues close to their hearts. It is during this time that I get a sense for the hope for change and the collective mindset of the workforce and middle management.

·       As a Leading Indicator: When people that I have never met before share a high level of desperation about the way they are treated and the number of problems that are ignored, I know that improvement is going to be a challenge. Often these people do not believe that lasting change is possible but they hope this time will be different. When hope is low, despair is high. When they don’t see a way out, it is almost impossible to implement process changes with any level of success. To be successful, hope must become part of the scope of work. The barriers that steal hope almost always come from management, which means that management must be involved in taking the barriers down.  

·       As a Lagging Indicator: Hope for a brighter future can grow as change begins IF the change process is started in the right place. What do I mean by that? Real change begins in the mind, not with processes. In the past 100 years of process improvement work, we have often started change in the wrong place – with processes instead of mindsets that determine our success or failure with change.  An increase in hope is a reflection of actions OVER TIME that take away the pain of the current culture. New actions must precede increases in hope, which is why hope is a lagging indicator of change. Hope also indicates management’s effectiveness in removing the barriers that prevent the increase in hope for sustainable change.

I have identified and personally experienced 3 phases along the Hope Curve – Revelation, Inspiration and Dedication. If you are in the midst of a change initiative, where do you fall on this curve? See the figure below: 


Remember… it is important to understand the impact of hope on change. Why? Because lack of hope is a barrier to change. If companies don’t acknowledge, understand and remove their barriers, they

·       Cannot optimize performance, transform culture and sustain change.

·       Spend millions of dollars on change initiatives that never deliver the benefits.

Continue to search for “new and improved” programs, believing that they are on the path to optimizing performance and culture.

THOUGHT FOR THE MONTH: Once you understand your barriers to change, you will never go back to your old way of thinking.  

Author: Kay Sever CMC, CQIA, Sustainable Improvement Consultant and Coach. Kay Sever is a leader in sustainable improvement for mines and plants. She combines over 30 years of mining experience with a common sense approach to improvement that raises awareness about lost opportunity and hidden barriers that prevent improvement success. Her new management training program, The Change Revelation, shows management teams how to remove the barriers that are holding them

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