Why is Change So Hard?

That’s not the way we do things around here. That’s the way we have always done it. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Why is change so hard? We hear it often; we say it often; and yet change is something we desire; strive for; and resist. We develop habits, processes, and patterns to make life easier. Resisting what is known and comfortable requires effort. It causes discomfort. Learning to accept that discomfort until a new habit or process is learned requires resilience, planning, and support.

As the fourth quarter is fast approaching, clients are making plans for 2023, and looking at new ways of doing things to be more competitive and more profitable. What changes must be made to improve our results? What investments must we make? Lots of questions to be asked and decisions to be made. Almost all involve change.

If you considering changes within your organization, here are some tips to get the best results.

1. Limit the Number of Changes

Most companies tackle too many changes at one time. This causes distractions within the business and can leave employees feeling confused and overwhelmed. When you link two or more changes together, a failure in one may make you abandon the other, especially in the beginning. Suppose you decide to expand marketing and your hire a new marketing director and buy new marketing software. Although the two are linked to the same goal, targeting them simultaneously increases the probability of setbacks in both. Introducing changes over time reduces organizational discomfort and allows the new initiative an opportunity to thrive.

2. Beware of the Domino Effect

Making one change often triggers other small-scale changes that you must anticipate. Let’s go back to the marketing example. You hire a new Marketing Director. He develops a new marketing strategy, requests increased budget, hires new people and dismisses others, changes assignments and processes, and the list goes on. The organization is distressed at the new changes. They are unfamiliar, take more time, and don’t make sense. Without a plan to mitigate the impacts on the organization, these small-scale changes may thwart your efforts to make the change.

3. Promote the Benefits

Talking about change and doing something about it are two different things. For those who are comfortable with the status quo or fear the unknown, making a change will be difficult. If the voices are loud enough, or the leadership is weak, change initiatives can be defeated repeatedly.

Make the benefits clear to all. Although the current state may be undesirable, few are willing to try without knowing the payoff. Communicate a clear picture of the future so that all can envision what life will be like after the transformation. Follow the old adage, in times of stress, over communicate.  

4. Calibrate Expectations

Successful change management requires organizational support. Unless we break them down into specific, measurable components, changes are more likely to remain unaccomplished. Help people understand how the change will affect them. Here are a few examples.

Behavioral excesses. These changes target undesirable habits that lack moderation. In the business context, this might include surfing the net during business hours, excessive expense account spending, or excessive absenteeism or tardiness.

Behavioral improvements. These changes involve developing new skills or practices. Examples of this kind of change include learning to use new software, adopting new processes or procedures, or working different hours or in a different location.

Relationship changes. These changes could range from working with new people or people assigned to new roles or having new reporting relationships. For example, an account manager may be moved to another account which is in the best interests of the business but upsets the client.

Quality-of-life changes. These are high-level, broad changes such as a new strategy, new corporate mission, vision, or goals; or new or changed employee benefits. A great example is corporate wellness initiatives which help reduce health insurance costs. Some embrace all the available resources and clearly see the personal benefits. Others may view this as punishment for personal and habits. These types of changes can be more difficult to achieve than others.

5. Be Patient

Business success is defined by results. When they take too long, we become impatient and often give up. A solid, sustainable change is likely to follow many half-starts, failed attempts, and moments of frustration and disappointment. Resilience is important. Celebrate incremental change. Be willing to make adjustments without abandoning the desired result.

6. Be the First to Change

Accept that the only person you can change is yourself. Our ability to change others is limited. No matter how persuasive or manipulative one might be, people don’t change just because we say they must. Change is an individual responsibility. The only thing we can change is how we connect, relate, and respond to other people. We can offer guidance, training, and incentives but at a certain point, you may have to find someone who will embrace the change.

Change is hard, but humans are capable of enormous change. Think about the changes that have occurred in your lifetime. We have learned to accept new societal norms, changes in technology, medicine, the economy, and almost every aspect of our lives.

Take the plunge, make the change, and watch your business soar.

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