It’s not that hard to toss up one ball, but when you throw in two or three, things get tricky. What if each of the balls had a mind of their own? Change is hard because organizations are made up of individuals. Changing one person’s behavior can be challenging; it’s no wonder that changing a whole organization is hard.
Let’s start with getting one ball up, or getting one individual to change. Years of behavioral research shows that people simplify their surroundings. They like to find something that works and stick with it so that their attention is available. Even changing something like the route you take home from work illustrates this. First of all, there had better be a good reason for the change. You’d want to know why and a simple “because I said so” isn’t going to work. You would want to know what’s involved and you may be a little concerned about time or getting lost. But most importantly, you’d want to trust the source trying to get you to change. Ultimately the decision to change is up to you, the individual, and it‘s uncomfortable.
Now, add in the complexity of multiple individuals in an organization and the various factors in their workday. There are reporting relationships, responsibilities, capabilities, processes, tools, recognition and the little thing that ties everything together: culture. There may also be multiple projects at play. Working with this complexity reminds me of a scene from the movie “Evan Almighty,” a modern day Noah’s Ark. The main character sits in front of a huge fish tank and all of the fish flock behind him. He moves to the other side of the tank and the fish follow him there. If only it were that easy.
Build the Characteristics for Success
It is hard to understand and orchestrate this complexity. A lot of questions must be asked and answered in a systematic way. Different divisions, sites, and countries may vary greatly. And if you want the individuals to hear you and believe in the need for change, you have to listen and understand their current reality and how far they need to go. You also need to understand and build all of the organizational characteristics to nurture and support their success along the way.
It’s a TEAM Effort
And you aren’t the juggler. Every official and unofficial leader has to join in the effort. Research shows that when employees have an opportunity to be part of a change they are more likely to commit. I’ve seen this with many clients, but one where we established Business Readiness Managers really stays with me. The managers took ownership of a road map with different checkpoints and requirements to move forward. Their appreciation for potential challenges and dedication to the success for their business area was inspiring, and it worked!
Change is hard because you are dealing with the complexity of individuals, but in the end, it’s the individuals that make it happen.