People DO want to change

I regularly hear common quotes regarding change.  “People don’t mind change; people don’t want to be changed.”  “People fear change.”  Etc ad nauseam.  These quotes are generally well intentioned, but they imply that change is somehow implicitly resisted by people.  The common wisdom is that people, given the choice, would prefer to maintain the status quo.  I believe quite the opposite.

What if I told you that you’d been randomly selected to receive $100-million?  That would change your life in dramatic ways, but would anyone fear that change?  Would people mind being changed by someone else?  While this is strictly hypothetical I am sure that we can all agree that changes can be very welcome given that they benefit the people being changed.  This can even be seen in small examples.  What if I told you that there was a way around a traffic jam impacting your commute home?  Would you welcome the change or would you prefer to sit in traffic and stay the course?  Most would prefer to avoid the traffic.

Implementing change in a business environment is never easy, but it does not need to be bad.  An example of change potentially gone wrong is the recent announcement of United Airlines moving to a chance based bonus system.  This change clearly benefits one group at the expense of another group.  Specifically this change benefits ownership at the expense of employees.  We have yet to see what the impact this change will have on United, but I would freely speculate that it will be met with resistance at the employee level.

Change leaders, especially those with a background in continuous improvement, will be familiar with the Japanese word Kaizen which means, in layman’s terms, “good change.”    What constitutes “good change” is debatable, but I will attempt to define my understanding of it for you.

Good change in business should impact three distinct groups in a positive manner.  Change that has a positive impact on ownership, employees, and customers will be widely accepted and has a high likelihood of being sustained.   How do we, as change leaders, implement good change?  Personally I implement a change matrix for each group to ensure that the change will be “good.”

For each group there must be an incentive…something must be tangibly better for them.  This could be monetary, but it does not necessarily have to be.  Monetary benefits are easy enough to understand, but many customers and employees will realize an incentive from a smoother process or a less frustrating experience.  People familiar with the Value Proposition Canvas will recognize incentives as “Gain Creators” or “Pain Relievers.”  Providing balanced pain relief or gain creation for each group will greatly increase the potential for success.

Each group must have the resources and skills needed to implement the change.  A skills gap with any of the three will lead to anxiety, and that anxiety will likely lead to resistance to the proposed change.   A resource gap will lead to frustration and the negative feedback associated with frustration.

A comprehensive action plan must be created for each group.  In some instances it will make sense for there to be a single action plan, but you may need a separate action plan for each group.  The action plan must spell out how the change is to be implemented.  Failure here will lead to false starts as seen when a change starts and then flops before it is sustained.

Lastly the change must be accompanied by a strong vision.  My personal favorite method to establish a vision is Simon Sinek’s method of finding “why. “  While his method was aimed at a higher level I feel it is completely applicable here.  Most vision for change is communicated at the “what” or “how” level.  A great vision will speak to the emotionally-based “why.”

Implementing each of these steps for each group (customers, employees, and ownership) will greatly increase the probability of success.  There is never a guarantee of success with change.  Change, by definition, deals with the future, and all futures are based in probability.  The question we must ask ourselves is will the change be “good change” or will it be met with unnecessary resistance.  We must always remember that people do not mind change…so long as it is “good change.”

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