3 Surprising Things About Change

“What’s the use of having all these good ideas if we can’t do them?”– Exasperated Executive.


Some people can get their way by fiat: do this or else. CEOs can sell off divisions, hire people, fire people, send them to Siberia, etc. Politicians and judges legislate the changes they want and send resistors to jail if they don’t comply. The rest of us don’t have these tools and have to get a lot more creative to get others to enact change. Many organizational experts prescribe the answers to change management through complex performance system charts and tertiary personality diagrams that probably make sense on an academic level but not in the trenches.

Does it really have to be this hard and expensive?

In the terrific best-selling book titled Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, the authors describe a practical framework birthed after decades of scientific research that is simple enough to remember. They rightfully acknowledge that this framework isn’t an all-encompassing panacea. However, they provide many real life examples of how using these principles resulted in getting buy-in.  And somewhere along the way, they discovered three surprises about us.

What looks like resistance is usually a result of a lack of clarity.

How many of us have vowed to “eat healthier” or make more money? Despite our internal willingness, how easy is this over the long term? For most, not very. Instead, we are urged to break the goal into doable action items: get Greek yogurt instead of ice cream, aim to hit your best demonstrated OEE for the year for an entire week straight, spend 1 hour per week more on the more profitable accounts and less time on generating new ones, etc. Identify performances that have been achieved in the past and challenge them to repeat it. Then, ramp up to a higher frequency.

What looks like laziness is often exhaustion.

Find the motivating pressure points. Sometimes, all it takes is a physical prop like a picture of a goal or a running meter that shows how much money the group is losing per hour. Other times, the folks are just trying to do too much at once. Researchers have found that self-control is an exhaustible resource, just like your muscles after doing 20 squats at the gym. So when the emotional part of the brain gets tired and starts thinking things like “it’s too hard, we’re no good at this”, the analytical part of the brain doesn’t have the strength to yank on the reins and keep pushing through the change. When people exhaust their self-control what they are really exhausting is their ability to push forward in the face of frustration. It’s your job as the change agent to recognize this and keep the muscles fresh.

What looks like a people problem is more times than not a situational problem.

Some people are just lazy and you need to get rid of them; let them go work in an environment that suits laziness. If it’s a people issue, then it obviously has to be addressed. Below is a three step process the president of an international manufacturer always follows when dealing with a people issue:

  1. Should the person be on the bus? If NO – end discussion and deal with the root cause. If YES then move to 2.
  2. What seat are they in? Why isn’t it working? Skills mismatch, training, etc? Peter principle?
  3. What seat SHOULD they be in? Let’s adjust.

The rest of us really do want to do a great job and excel. But there are situational factors that can get in the way of thinking clearly or staying disciplined when implementing change. One way to eliminate these factors is to tweak the environment. Is the regular office so busy and filled with constant interruptions that the team can’t focus for even short periods? Is the corporate culture in direct odds with the goal? Does your spouse really want to get his blood pressure down but you notice he will eat an entire large pizza if he can sit in front of the tv while doing so? While you are at it, take a look at how your reward people: Does the top selling sales person win a one on one dinner with the CEO? (Would he consider that a punishment?) What can be tweaked in what you are doing now to make implementation easier?


Simply put, change has to do with creating a downhill slope and giving the people a push. John Wooden once said, “When you improve a little each day, eventually big things occur… Don’t look for the quick, big improvement. Seek the small improvement one day at a time.”

That’s the only way it happens- and when it happens, it lasts.

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