Why is some change hard and some change easy?
Change is a constant in our lives, whether we like it or not. We experience change as we age, our family dynamics change, our workplaces change and the world around us certainly changes. We all have a different orientation to change – from avoiding through to embracing, yet even within that range, our comfort with change seems to vary incident by incident.
Jonathan Fields posted a visual essay on the Paradox of Change earlier this week and it really got me thinking about change at a deeper level, especially in light of all the personal change that our family has moved through over the past year. Jonathan shares the observation that everyone wants the result of change, but few are willing to invest their energy to own the process of change. He shares a definition of leadership whereby “a leader is someone that is willing to own not just the result but the process of change”.
With statistics consistently showing that over 70% of change efforts fail, from personal changes (quit smoking, start exercising etc.) to corporate changes (new processes, new structures), I’m continually drawn back to the connection between leadership commitment and the effectiveness of change. Why are people comfortable with some changes and not with others? Is it about commitment? Is it connected to the level of control you have? Does it have anything to do with alignment to your core values? What influence does your “tribe” have on your willingness to change?
I am posing a theory that large, significant change, while scarier in contemplation, is actually easier in process and implementation. It’s the big stuff on a personal level – new house, new job, new partner… Once you’ve made the decision to change, once you actually step over that line and into the “new” it’s pretty hard to backslide. The old house is sold, the old job is gone and the old partner has moved on. This forces you to “suck it up” and put one foot in front of the other and move forward. You move through various highs and lows but you move forward. Smaller changes, whether at work or at home, seem less innocuous when you are approaching them or thinking about them BUT I would argue that they are actually harder to make stick. Think about the challenges around quitting smoking, losing weight or exercising more. They are behavioural changes that are completely at the mercy of each one of us. There is nothing pushing us through the process. There is only our motivation and desire for the outcome and it has to get us through the hard work entailed in the process. In the work world, this is akin to changing processes or procedures – everyone agrees that the new outcome is an improvement (better customer service, faster time to market, higher quality) BUT everyone is also very comfortable with the old process, otherwise it would not have lasted as long as it did. Some good physics lessons about inertia are buried in change management theory.
I truly believe that the intrinsic appeal of the “new” has to be incredibly strong to overcome the inertia of old and the difficulty of letting go of the things that create comfort for us. It helps for the new to be something that we have each chosen vs been “shoulded into” by others, and that we personally see value and importance in the new. Having the support of our tribe is always helpful and should be engaged to keep you on track through the backslide temptation moments.In the work world, I fully support the philosophy of communication, communication, communication along with engagement. The more employees can build understanding and internalize the value of the new, the more their internal motivation will overcome the fear of the unknown.
Circling back to Jonathan Fields and his logic about leadership – are you willing to sign on for both the process and the outcome of change, in all areas of your life? Share your thoughts in the comments below…