The Real Reason that Change is Difficult

Over the years, I have had several clients ask me questions like “why is change so hard?”, or “why can’t we get this done?”.  While there are many reasons for their frustration, I would like to focus on a couple that, in my experience, really get to the core of the question.

First of all, in an organization of any size, every individual in the business has a different perspective on whether change is needed, what the change should look like, who should actually change, and whether the business in general - and themselves in particular - will be better for it.  And to make it more complex, people change their views on the change based on their emotional state at the time, ranging from pessimistic to optimistic, or to neutral, and maybe back again, without giving you much, if any, notice.

Much of this swing can be traced to FEAR – fear of the unknown, fear of anything that upsets my apple cart, fear that I won’t be able to do whatever is new, fear that what I have achieved may get lost in the shuffle, fear that I may not be needed, or that someone else will move ahead of me. Many years ago, I heard a client say “working with the Devil I know is probably safer than working with the Devil I don’t.”  In other words, staying where I am is better than going someplace unknown and new. Helping people overcome their fear is essential, and can be facilitated by addressing the second point.

The Law of Inertia tells us that an object at rest tends to stay at rest. An organization, which is of course made up of people, needs an external force to initiate its movement. A clear message that delineates why the current state of the organization needs to change, put into the language of the people (not Wall Street-ese), combined with a well-thought out plan and a good description of what the vision for the future looks like, can do wonders for getting people to want to change, or at least accept the need for it.

If an individual can say “I know that our current state won’t win, and I know that there is a better place, and I have a good idea how to get there,” – then maybe I will fear the “devil I don’t know” a whole lot less.

Rough Guide To Change

Martin Thompson

Martin Thompson is a Client Partner at Evolve Partners. In his 27 years as a consultant, he has been a part of helping many clients achieve results that last, in a way that also builds their capabilities and ownership of the changes.  He provides clients at all levels with valuable insights that help them navigate their way through the "breadth and depth" of operational improvement and organizational transformation.