How to Affect Change

February 10, 2010 — Posted by Al Shalloway

Virginia Satir said that people prefer familiarity over comfort.  The equivalent of this in transitioning organizations seems to be that people prefer pain over fear.  That is, the current pain they are experiencing over the fear of what change may be. Here are some thoughts I've had about changing organizations.

Most people don’t change unless there is a compelling reason for them to change. This compelling reason usually takes the form of current pain they want to relieve or a fear of future pain they want to avoid. Change itself, however, is painful to most.

The benefit of change is a combination of lowering current/future pain as well as getting some additional positive outcome to reducing the pain.  This benefit must be significantly greater than the current or future threat of pain since we always perceive a certain amount of risk in change.  That is, that it won’t take effect.  So the benefit has to be greater than the cost since we may not get the benefit.

To state this in mathematical terms:

"New benefit" + "anticipated reduction in pain" – "cost of change" MUST BE GREATER THAN "current pain" + "perceived future pain"

Therefore to help convince someone to change, one can either show more benefit, or reduce the anticipated cost of change.

My conjecture:

Knowledge can change both the perceived benefit of change  and the anticipated cost of change.

Anticipated benefit from change is typically based on a "what’s in it for me" attitude. Possibly someone identifies with the company as me, but not always.

All of the above is psychological.  But an understanding of what is happening (what I call lean-science) can affect both the perceived costs and benefits (both how much and to who – particularly with lean’s optimize the whole principle).

Because of this, although we are dealing with people’s psychology, using science and understanding can have a profound impact on people’s emotional thinking and therefore significantly change people’s behavior.  Using emotions and rationalization together is a more effective method of evoking change than an emotional approach alone.

BTW: My favorite book on change is William Bridge’s Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change because he deals with both the emotional and business aspects of change.

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About the author | Al Shalloway

Al Shalloway is the founder and CEO of Net Objectives. With 45 years of experience, Al is an industry thought leader in Lean, Kanban, product portfolio management, Scrum and agile design. He helps companies transition to Lean and Agile methods enterprise-wide as well teaches courses in these areas.


Comments

I picked up the concept of "perceived cost" when I worked with change consultants 15-20 years ago. Today's well-known tools, processes, rules and regulations has its own ups and downs. There are costs and values associated with today. If you want to increase change readiness in an organization you need to lower the experienced net value of today's status quo compared to tomorrow's change. You have to do so because change itself brings along uncertainty. And uncertainty has a significant perceived cost. We human beings simply dislike uncertainty.

How can I increase change readiness? I can either increase the expected value after the change by focusing on all the good things that can happen, I can lower the perceived cost of uncertainty by increasing the knowledge level of tomorrow's change, or I can increase the expected cost of status quo by painting a pessimistic picture of continuing like today.

I prefer increasing the knowledge level and presenting the strengths and opportunities that arise from the change.

Finally I think "cost" is more related to the regular Lean terminology than "pain".

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