Change Is Hard

Change Is Hard

I spent a large part of my career working with clients to implement new software packages and other solutions, change entire organisations or change work processes in groups. The key element in all of this was that at the end of the engagement success meant that the people in the organisation would be working differently. Working with multiple clients and also internally at IBM I learned, and this really should have been obvious, that people, on the whole, don’t like change. Or to be more accurate people are suspicious of and reluctant to change.

Introducing a new system or application often involves a large technical aspect (implementation, configuration and customisation), roll-out, user training and, one hopes, good communication throughout. The mistake, I believe, that many organisations make is to do this to their staff rather than with them.

“Sudden-death” changes imposed on organisations and groups are rarely as successful as they could be and quite often don’t stick. By stick I mean that the new processes and systems work as designed a year after implementation.

We spend a lot of time building business cases for change, making purchases and rolling out solutions and yet this hard work doesn’t always deliver what we had hoped for. So the question is — Why do failures keep happening?

A recent article in Psychology Today tackles these questions —

What Makes Change Difficult?

I would recommend reading the whole article but two things stood out for me:

“Another major reason that makes change difficult is that we are not ready and willing for change. We may be comfortable where we are and even scared to step into the unknown. As long as our current state provides us with comfort and security, making the change will be difficult.”

“Being too comfortable where we are, or being too scared to make a change, what makes change seem difficult is that we are not really convinced about how much better life will be after we make the change. Is all the effort worth it?”

So what do I conclude from this? People are not necessarily anti-change but they need to feel comfortable with the proposed change and also understand why the change is happening in the first place, why it will be good for the organisation, why it will be good for them and equally importantly what are the consequences of not making the change?

I found the following Harvard Business Review piece which covers some of the same ground and suggests how we could do things better:

Change Is Hard. Here’s How to Make It Less Painful

One of the key points here is:

“When a change is first proposed, most people immediately want to know three things: what does this change mean to me, why is it happening, and what will it look like when the change has been made? We gather this information intuitively, in order to begin to assess the level of risk and difficulty involved in the change.

“As people begin to ask these questions, their initial mindset (again, based on many thousands of years of change being seen as a threat) is usually that the change will be difficult, costly, and weird. Difficult means, “I don’t know how to do this, and/or other people are going to make it hard for me to do this.” Costly means, “this will take from me things I value.” This may be time or money, but is likely to involve more intrinsic and invisible valuables like identity, power, reputation, or relationships. And weird just means strange and unnatural: “This isn’t the way we do things around here.”

By the way, if people are instinctively asking these three questions and you don’t provide them with answers they will make up their own answers, which often isn’t helpful and in many cases will be based on false information.

Another really important point the article makes is that traditionally, when we are implementing a change, we tend to solely focus on what’s changing and forget about what isn’t changing. The article explains it this way:

“Letting people know what isn’t changing as well as what is changing can be very reassuring. Quite often, even a major change won’t have much impact on people’s key priorities.

“Let’s say that you’re reorganizing your salesforce into industry verticals, away from a geographic focus. By confirming that the roles and responsibilities of the account managers, inventory and planning people, and sales support staff will remain largely the same — and that the overall sales goals aren’t changing either — you can help people focus on what needs to change, instead of worrying about all the things that will be staying very much the same.”

Again I would encourage you to read the whole article but the summary captures this nicely:

“As a leader, if you can understand that initial fear and hesitation around change are normal — rather than assuming it means that people are “change-resistant” or “negative” — and support your people through the necessary mindset shift, you’ll be much better able to build a critical mass of people who will understand, accept, and adopt the change reasonably quickly. More important, you’ll be helping your people to become more change-capable overall: to create skills and habits of mind to approach change in a more neutral, open way, and therefore to be better able to navigate all the changes that will arise in this new era.”

Bringing this much closer to home, with Praxonomy and our Boardlogic product, implementing a board portal solution for your board needs to be less a fait accompli announcement and more of a collaborative effort. We are all different and no two board members will need the same help, support and communication. Just recognising that people need help through the change is a good start. Creating a good and solid transition plan (from current to future state) will help ensure that you get the real value from your investment in a new system, in our case a board portal, and, one hopes, will make future changes just that little bit easier to achieve.