Why is change within an organization so hard? To begin with, it rarely happens quickly; that is, it’s rarely one way today and totally different tomorrow. Change is usually incremental and evolutionary. Secondly, as I have written elsewhere in this forum, the cases for change is usually made in highly logical terms. The process of change for humans, however, is highly emotional — all change involves some loss — and thus subject to resistance. Getting a workforce to the end goals of both mental and emotional acceptance of change simply takes time and considerable management skill.
In this and the next several articles, I will focus attention on several key elements of initiating and sustaining successful change initiatives.
BREAKING THE MOLD
Within any organization of reasonable size, there are practices, procedures, styles, formats, and patterns of routine behavior that define the how, form, and format in which things get done. They are characteristic of the organization and employees and managers learn them almost by osmosis. Ask why things are done a certain way and you are likely to hear something like this: “it’s just the way we do things here” or “we’ve always done it this way”.
The dictionary defines a mold as a “model around, on, or within which something is formed or shaped. The beauty of these models is the predictability of the outcome; its look, feel, and comforting familiarity. That is why these models tend to last so long and are resistant to change, even in the face of strong evidence that change is required. Consider how long it took American automobile manufacturers to respond to the style change requirements needed to compete with their foreign competition, Blockbuster’s tardy response to the video delivery model shift represented by Netflix, or the belated efforts of many current big box retailers to respond to the evolving on-line shopping habits of many of their previous customers.
We often can not recall when many of these organizational models actually came into being, who first created them, or who — if anybody — is actually still responsible for policing conformity to their dictates. Would anything bad actually happen if we broke a few of these molds from time to time? The only way to find out is to try and long-term success very much depends on starting off on the right foot.
Θ Do not force others to defend the old ways. Vociferous, sarcastic, “how long has your head been in the sand” attacks on traditional ways of doing things invariably arouse deep counter-passions and stolid defenses of things that have worked “quite well” thank you. The more aggressive and hostile to the past you seem — usually suggesting the other side is seriously out of date and perhaps a bit stupid — the more adamantine in their opposition you resisters will become.
Θ Better to make your case calmly and persuasively based on what a new model can do that the old one can not. This is not so much a rejection of the old as it is a highlighting of the old’s limitations in light of new realities and organizational/customer needs. There will still be some resistance and counter-argument but logic and facts in this case are more persuasive, than frontal assaults on traditional ways of accomplishing goals.
Θ Remind yourself often that demonstration and involvement are more powerful and persuasive than eloquence. Have a new model in mind? Give others something to look at, touch, experience, and engage with if possible. The more folks you can get involved and assist in the development of something new, the better.
Θ Remember that a customer’s favorable response outweighs your confidence and enthusiasm. Consider the recipient of the product or service that will benefit from the results of a model shift, let them see the benefits of what you have in mind, and recruit their support. While it is easy to argue with your colleagues, it’s much harder to reject the requests and demands of good customers.
Θ Finally, be patient and very persistent; Rome was not built in a day. Few things have killed off more potentially beneficial change initiatives, than an unwillingness to commit for the long haul. Better not to begin at all, than to expect instant gratification.
In my next article — CHANGE Part II — I will address what it is that characterizes the consistently successful “agents of change” among us.