Overcoming the change paradox

Rick Harrison

Head of Strategy

21 March 2017

There is a central paradox that humanity seems to be stuck in, that most people are terrified of change and yet at the same time made miserable by the thought that tomorrow will be pretty much the same as today. It’s a daily tragedy for many that in that ongoing battle fear continually outweighs discomfort and change doesn’t happen.


From a business perspective the result is that almost any program or initiative designed to deliver change faces a substantial challenge. Whether for customers or internal to the organisation, at every level there is a natural inclination to resist change.


Organisations have been specifically built to resist change, they are machines designed to undertake repetitive tasks as efficiently as possible in order to deliver consistent outputs at a consistent value to their customers, adding more customers is good, anything else is a risk.


Departments are culturally resistant to change, often competing with other departments for resources, justifying budgets and gaining status based on headcount, their focus is on maintaining what they have, any change has the potential to disrupt their operation.


At the individual level the majority of people in any organisation will be, in their initial response, resistant to change, even when it will benefit them. However critical they are of the current situation they are likely to view any change as containing significant personal risk.


Even in the consumer space it is often very hard to shift people from the familiar to something different. Even when the benefits of change are clear, it tends not to be the proven wins from the new that motivates customers to change but the severity of the pain they currently experience with the old. Humans are quick to complain but slow to act, did the last poor experience you had result in changing supplier? If you are like the majority then probably not.


The challenge is made harder because the intellectual and the instinctive responses are commonly different. During a consultancy process the majority may recognise that a proposed change is both essential and beneficial, as soon as it happens they will turn their efforts to justifying why it shouldn’t happen to them.


So how do you get people to adopt the new? You prioritise the personal.


While the direction of travel will undoubtedly be set at the top of the organisation, delivering change depends on addressing the needs, concerns and motivations of individuals.


Context is essential in getting people to shift from the current state to the desired future state. Individuals make meaning out of their experiences in order to guide their actions. If you understand how people create meaning out of their current experiences you can create the context for them to create positive meaning around changes. Doing so takes concerted effort, great communications and a focus on the overall experience that is being created.


Focussing on the context surrounding change is what makes it possible to influence the meaning that people will make of the process, the expectations they will set around the associated experience and how they rate the experience when it happens. Those expectations and experiences impact both their willingness to engage with the process of change and their adoption of the new.


Resistance to change can be turned into widespread adoption, but it takes effort and a willingness to do a lot more than simply broadcast comms at your audience.


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