We don’t like change only when it’s bad
Surely, we all enjoy more sales, higher pay, promotions, and things that allow us to drink coffee longer.
Why is it then, when we talk about change in business, or in workplace, people cringe?
We cringe because we’ve had one too many experiences when the change is bad, it hurts us personally, professionally, or damages an entire company. Apparently, there is a difference between a good change that we like, and the bad change we don’t.
In this article, I explore a difference mainly in the scale of change.
If the world/work/business as we know it disappears overnight, it’s bad. If it morphs gradually, or takes small steps every now and then, we welcome it - few like to work in a stale environment.
Let’s look at why we need to change, and how do we go from introducing bad change to introducing good one.
Why do we need to change?
There is always a pressure to change. Put simply, if you are not getting better, you are getting worse. The only way to get better is to change for the better. And the only way to change for the better is to change at all. Sometimes you fail, but sometimes you succeed - and those times matter.
Pressure to change (blue line in the figure below) is the same over time. One can argue, that it is increasing every day, and the world of tomorrow requires us to be Mystique from X-Men and change in a blink of an eye.
Some say, the change is now exponential. ‘Exponential’ has become a buzzword, and it means far too many things at the same time. Let’s not unnecessarily overcomplicate things - and assume that the pressure to change is constant.
What happens when we don’t change for a while?
As you could see in the figure above, ‘pressure to change’ is not the same as ‘need for change’.
Since pressure is the same over time, and it’s accumulated, the need for change grows higher. During this period the organisation is robust enough to survive unchanged.
The longer we wait, the higher the need. It goes on and on, until it doesn’t.
At some point, we are forced to change: either because of the market change, or someone ‘disrupting’ the industry, or our own inflexibility foretelling the doom.
Klaatu: Our sun was dying. We had to evolve in order to survive.
Professor Barnhardt: So it was only when your world was threatened with destruction that you became what you are now.
Professor Barnhardt: Well that’s where we are. You say we’re on the brink of destruction and you’re right. But it’s only on the brink that people find the will to change. Only at the precipice do we evolve.
-The Day the Earth Stood Still
And we change in the worst possible way - going down like an avalanche. A huge change over a short period is not something to be enjoyed. Daily process get revamped, people get fired and hired, and the expenses are painful to look at.
This is why we cringe when we hear about ‘change’: this type of change was prevalent for a long time across all industries.
Is there a way out?
Not surprisingly, the answer is straightforward: we need to change before the need is too high.
It doesn’t mean we need to change every day - periods of stability are good. It means that we need to be on the lookout. When the need to change hits some threshold (that we set for ourselves), we should change.
Managing these periods of robustness and resilience is no easy task, which requires collaboration of management and governance teams.
Such approach is sustainable and leads to the continued existence of an organisation.
So, why don’t we like change, again?
In this article, we’ve seen that we don’t like when too much changes too fast. We don’t like things breaking apart.
It is our job as leaders and managers to prevent that, and build resilient organisations. And we can do it.