3 Ways To Make Folks Less Nervous About Ch-ch-ch-Change

The David Bowie classic “Changes” is instructive when considering the chorus line:

(Turn and face the strange)
Just going to have to be a different man

First of all, who wants to face the strange? Raise your hand! I know. That doesn’t sound all too desirable or comfort-inducing.

Secondly, who wants to be a different (hu)man? Raise your hand! I know. What’s wrong with the (hu)man I am right now?

So change isn’t a desirable state of being. Resisting change is normal and natural. Because change is … scary and a bit offensive to who I am right now. Not changing is … a sigh of relief and validation that I’m good the way I am.

A Product Manager friend of mine from Microsoft recently shared with me how,

When nervous about direction, people tend to want to go backwards.

This is so true. Because when you extend that thought a bit further:

When comfortable about direction, people don’t want to change. When a direction changes, for that direction to be a comfortable one it needs to:

  1. Be familiar to our culture — and preferably having been invented by “one of us” so it doesn’t include any enemy boobytraps we might not know about.
  2. Be known to have succeeded in the past 99 times out of 100 — and preferably 100 times out of 100 so we don’t end up being that 1/100th case of failure.
  3. Be zero costs financially and require almost no effort — and everyone doesn’t have to participate, and it should be charged to a new cost center and not mine.

If you don’t meet these three factors, then folks will start going backwards to the way things were because it’s what appears to be safer to them. Why? Because their existing recipe/algorithm for success worked so well in the past.

Think about your favorite restaurant — the one you always go to because the food is always perfect for you. It’s never bad! Why would you go and try out a brand new restaurant that makes you walk an extra eight blocks to visit … only to discover that it is terrible? Right?

But you start to hear it’s superb … and all your friends are going there … or so you hear. One day, you start to brave the walk but by the 2nd block you start thinking to yourself, “Is this new restaurant really going to be better?” And as you start to imagine how it’s unlikely to be the case by the 2nd-and-a-half block, you start … walking … backwards to your regular joint. You’re uncertain of the direction, so you go back to your safest bet.

Of these three factors to make a change feel more comfortable, it’s laborious but wholly possible to make numbers 1 and 3 happen as a manager and leader. Number 2 is a little harder, but it is possible when you do as the Heath brothers describe as “shrinking the change” (#) into lower risks steps in the new direction.

So there you go: three ways to make folks less nervous about change, and to enable progress to happen. It’s as easy as that! (wink) —JM

One comment

  1. John –

    I wonder if the root problem of “change” at organisations is the mindset. More specifically – “fixed mindset” that we developed through education and work environment designed for Industrial Revolution.

    I think, it’s important to think of root problems. That’s how we can find solutions…

    For example, if we pick “fixed mindset” as a problem, we can develop habits to observe how we think. (Plenty of existing solutions out there – meditation, writing, etc.)

    On the other hand, the problem of “change” at organisations could be positioning. Is it really true that people need to “change” and “be different”? Or, can we accept that people already are different (because we are — just look at our cultures, hobbies, etc.)?

    If so, we don’t need to “change” anymore. We can be who we are – different. The important question now is how we can cooperate towards shared goals with our colleagues who are different to us and together create value for the organisation and society.


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