Elliot Ross and his always insightful blog about Strategic Technology for the Small to Medium Enterprise just posted on “ITIL, Value and Culture.” I like Elliot’s blog because of his “small to medium enterprise” perspective – I find it an interesting balance against the large companies I typically work with.

I felt the need to comment on his ITIL post because of an assertion he made about organizational change.  I then decided to turn my comment into a post of its own (get ’em where you can, right?)

People Don’t Hate Change!

Elliot asserted “People hate change. Period!”  I think this is a common misconception – or at least, a misstatement.   People make changes all the time, and for every one person that has a cautious, conservative approach to change, there is at least one other who embraces and even seeks out change!  I’ve seen theories (though not the research to substantiate them!) that in any population, one third are highly receptive to change – may even make the change without being prodded.  One third are highly resistant to change and will fight it tooth and nail.  And one third will look to the other two-thirds and decide which path to follow.  This, of course, is overly simplistic, and probably wrong!  But I have to admit that whenever I’ve suggested the hypothesis to clients, it seems to resonate and match with their own experience, so perhaps there’s something to it?  Anyway, I’ve found it to be a useful framework to use in designing change programs.

People Hate Being Changed!

People don’t hate change, but they don’t like being changed! That’s a key distinction, IMHO.  So, for successful change, engage the people who must change in the change, make clear to them why it’s beneficial to them – the familiar “What’s In It For Me” (WIFM) ingredient and they will flock to it – or at least, one third of them will.  One third will fight it all the way, and the middle third will watch to see how the mythical wind is blowing.

Different Types of Change

Of course, change is a complex and multi-faceted concept, so any generalizations about it are fraught with problems.  For example, changing a simple routine – say, a new way to record your time – is quite different from moving from one boss to another.  Even more extreme is to change culture – to ‘build quality in’ for example, or become ‘customer focused’ as some change programs exhort!  These types of change require that you understand what changed behaviors are expected, believe in the need for those changes, have or can develop the required knowledge, skills and behaviors, and are willing to invest significant personal effort and take personal risk to make the change!

The Importance of Consequences!

Elliot made an excellent point about change and consequences:

If there is a lack of responsibility and consequences, people instinctively return to the old way of doing things.”

If there are no positive consequences for those who embrace the change, and/or no negative consequences for those who reject it, then the middle third in the framework introduced above will likely reject the change, the critical mass will never materialize, and the change is a lost cause.

And this lack of consequences is, from my experience, a very common problem.  I’ve had CIO‘s complain to me, “We aren’t great at implementation and follow through!”  I typically get into the “5 why‘s” routine.  “Why aren’t you good at implementation?”  And I keep asking why until they tell me, “We don’t hold people accountable.” or “There are no consequences for them following through or not.”  One more “why” from me usually gives them the mirror they need to see – they see and recognize the enemy!

Image courtesy of The Rubicon

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