A Formula for Avoiding Resistance to Change

Change is something we all pay lip service to. Like flossing our teeth and jogging, we know we ought to do it, but prefer not to.

For most people change means hard work, risk and the need to learn new ways for unproven benefits. But staff know that such objections are not permissible in corporate life, so they quickly hunt down endless rational objections to stop change -- cost, safety, unions, customers views, risk are favourite standbys.

This makes for a highly dysfunctional argument: both sides arguing for and against change on a rational basis when the real issues are emotional and personal.

Fortunately, there is a formula which perfectly predicts whether individual and institutions will sustain change. Here it is, in all it mathematical spurious accuracy:

Change = (V x N x C x F)/R

Put into English: the ability to change is determined by the strength of the vision (V), the perceived need for change (N), the capacity to change (C), some successful first steps (F), all of which needs to be offset by the perceived risks and costs of change (R).

If the formula gives you a bad result, don't even think of starting any change: it will cause pain and effort and achieve nothing.

  • V: hold out a vision of a better world at the end of the change. This has to be more than "we will increase earnings per share". Who cares? It has to be personal: "the increased profits will allow us to invest in more training or job opportunities". Promising the promised land is fine, but people will still be wary of the journey ahead.
  • N: show that there is a real need to change. Show that the costs of doing nothing far exceed the costs of doing something. Create the crisis: "We are losing market share and if this continues we will all lose our jobs". People may not want to change when the sun is shining: but if they are up to their waists in sewage they will respond better to the idea of change and moving on.
  • C: make the change as easy as possible for people. Do not ask them to leap through hoops of burning fire for breakfast. Be clear about what is expected and when, and show that they will get the support they need for the journey ahead.
  • F: Everyone likes a winner. So find some early wins that show that your change programme is for real, rather than yet another corporate initiative which can be safely ignored.
  • R: Remove as much of the risk from your change as possible, and remember that the risk people worry about is personal: how will this affect me and my prospects. Show that change is low risk and not changing is high risk, and slowly people will come round to supporting the inevitability of change.
Over decades I have used this formula: it works for businesses and for individuals. The fate of most change programmes are determined before the change programme starts. Investing time early to set the programme up for success is essential.

(Pic: cloudsoup cc2.0)