Why are these changes so hard?
Why can they not see that continuing on will be a disaster?
These are two questions that I often ask myself working with businesses in distress, or often just underperforming, and looking for some sort of renewal.
Neither is possible without change, as the old saying goes ‘do what you have always done and you will get what you always got’
Pretty common sense, so why is it so hard?
Over the 40 years of working with businesses that need change, first as one of those at the bottom of the tree wondering why the monkeys at the top could not see it, and for the last 22 as an adviser, I have seen a lot.
The first thing that seems prevalent is that change only happens with a significant catalyst of some sort. Usually it is the person at the top who finally commits to the changes, often someone new, who is prepared to push very hard, and to break the shape of the status quo, and reshape a new one.
Then they have to address the very human emotions that combined created the situation in the first place.
Uncertainty. Human beings hate uncertainty, it is usually more corrosive and more damaging than staying in a known state of misery. Collectively, we will do almost anything to feel safe and secure by removing uncertainty.
Saying ‘No’ is easier. Following on from the avoidance of uncertainty, often agreeing to something new or even slightly different enables some level of uncertainty, so the easiest thing is to just say ‘No’. This is why the first sale is always the hardest, you have to get over that psychological predisposition to stay with what is known and understood. As the other old saying goes, ‘nobody ever got fired for buying IBM’
Loss of control. We like to feel we are in control, even if it is just our immediate environment, and the prospect of losing any of that control is painful. In a world where things are changing around us at apparent logarithmic speed, this loss of control of personal space can be alarming.
Loss of face. Losing face in some cultures is a horrendous possibility to face. Even in those cultures where it does not matter so much, we all want to be liked, to be respected, and by conceding change is necessary, conceding we may have even just condoned sub optimal practises carries personal risk.
Competence. Again, conceding that what has gone before is not good enough calls into question the competence of those who allowed it to continue, and in some cases, created the circumstances in the first place, and very few of us are happy to be labelled incompetent.
Change is hard work. Hard work is not just keeping your head down for an extended period, it is also the work of being prepared to suffer the stress of change. Much easier to avoid it, particularly as in most situations where change is necessary, everyone is already working hard, even if it is to fight all the stupid fires, so there is no time left to fix the causes of the fires.
Skeletons reappear. Most of us have a few skeletons buried somewhere, and while all sails on undisturbed, they will remain hidden, but once things get turned over, there is a risk of the ghosts of past stumbles being revealed to a whole new group.
The harsh reality. Sometimes all of the above may be in play, but the biggest link to the status quo is that in a change, people know they will be left behind. In a world of rapid technical changes, this infests many organisations as they set about dealing with the implementation of technology and productivity tools generally.
In my experience, there is no easy way to generate change, and make the new reality stick.
You can either do it progressively, piece by piece which requires leadership, persistence, and a preparedness to communicate, communicate, and communicate some more about the reasons change is necessary.
Alternatively, you can employ the ‘baseball bat method’, and force the change. This is painful, and leaves a lasting scar on not just those who get ‘batted’ but on the survivors as well. Whichever course you choose, be committed, as the status quo is the most elastic and resilient thing in the known universe, hugely resistant to change and able to recover from a succession of near death experiences.
Change is absolutely inevitable, the very best thing you can do is embrace it.