Three facts about change that are often overlooked

Posted by Chris on February 19, 2011

You have this great idea for an improvement in your team/company/organization. “If only we would change from X to Y, then we would be so much better off.” You have seen the data for it, heard about it or even experienced it yourself. Of course everyone will follow you to a better future. Right?

Unfortunately, change is not that simple. Most people are hesitant to change, they create workarounds for problems they have and trying to make them change often fails. Resistance to change is not about politics or opposing views. Most of the attempts that try to change something and fails do so not because the change was bad, but because of the way the change process itself was managed. Here are three very important facts about change that are often overlooked, leading to almost certain failure in changing.

1. Your vision is not their vision

In the words of my friend Joakim Karlsson, change is a pull system. It may be obvious to you that if your team or organization would just do this change, you would all be much more effective. But do not expect your coworkers/manager/friends (or whoever you want to change (with)) to think so. If you try to push your change on them you are almost certain to fail.

This does not mean that you should just sit back and wait of course. Instead you need to convince them that they need the change. But it is not enough to say that things will get better, or that this new technology is proven to be better. You have to put it in context for each specific individual or group you are trying to convince. What problems are they having today, and how will the future created by this change affect them specifically? The more specific you can be about describing both the current status quo, the change and most importantly the improved future from their perspective the more likely you are to get people interested in the change. And then you will not need to push the change on them, they will be requesting it to happen.

2. It gets worse before it gets better

So you managed to convince your boss to try your idea. He will be back in a week to follow up and see the effects of it. Or maybe you did not even try convincing anyone. After all, when the change is implemented who could possibly have any objection to it when things are already much better?

The way we think about the effects of change (E=Effectivity, T=Time)

Wrong! No matter how great your idea truly is, no matter how much improvement it means to your effectiveness, changing what you have now always hurts your effectiveness in the short run. People are used to doing things one way and it does not matter if that is an ineffective way of doing them, if they are forced to change they will do things worse for some time until they learn the new way and settle in with it.

What really happens when things change

There is lots to say about this curve and how to help people through it, as well as how to work to shorten the time between the change and when you are back at the starting level. For now though we will just keep it at accepting and realizing the importance of this curve. Do not expect immediate gains from the change.

3. It takes time to see the benefits

Finally, you have managed to convince and get people interested in the change, and all of you have also understood that it will be a time of chaos before things get better. But the question is, when has it gotten better? Or more importantly, when can we start reaping the benefits of the change?

Benefits of change

It is very easy to think that as soon as the period P1 is over it will all be ok. But you have to remember that during P1 you lost effectiveness. Many change efforts fail because they expect net gains at this stage. But net gains are not achieved until you go through the period P2. Instead of getting surprised by this, set your goals for the end of P2 and keep working to support the change efforts all the way.

Keep these three facts in mind when you plan your change and improvement efforts and you will have a much better chance of succeeding with them.


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