If you’ve always done it this way, you’ve always done it wrong.
I am in the business of trying to help companies get better. As a consultant, I have the opportunity to engage with organizations to evaluate their functioning, analyze their data, and then execute targeted improvements. My role in these engagements is to identify strengths and weaknesses in organizational efficiency pertaining to human resources, product quality, fiscal management, and workflow process, and then work collaboratively with organizations to find, implement, and evaluate plausible solutions.
It all sounds great, until you consider one very harsh reality. NO ONE LIKES CHANGE. I can’t tell you how many times I have asked a client “Why are you doing it that way?” only to receive a head tilting, hesitant reply of “Because we’ve always done it that way.” In my industry, the ability to manage change, and help suppress the clients’ urge to retaliate against it, is an imperative element.
So what is the big deal about change? Why is it that something potentially beneficial could be so daunting, if it interrupts our normal routine? Why do we hate change? Over the years, here are the patterns I have witnessed:
The DIScomfort Zone
We as humans are instinctively habitual. Most of us operate on a somewhat structured and repetitive routine. We have subconsciously programmed ourselves in a manner that allows for everything to fall into place. We do this because it is safe, and safety is comfortable. When you ask someone to change a part of this rigid day-to-day routine, they are forced to step out of that comfort zone, and their safety is threatened.
A very common term in my industry is “tribal knowledge”. Tribal Knowledge, to put it very simply, is secret knowledge. The idea behind this is usually by keeping the knowledge secret, and not sharing it with the rest of the organization, you become more valuable as an employee or team member. Although I have seen this phenomena in many forms in businesses, tribal knowledge could be anything from a certain technique/process, to specific methods of cutting costs, all the way to specific customer information. Often times when I offer best practices and solutions to a company that may overlap or take the place of someone’s legacy technique/practice, that employee/resource feels threatened by this change. The subconscious mentality is that he/she is now less valuable because they no longer hold the keys to the one secret solution. I’m sure many of you have witnessed that one Procurement Analyst or Sales Manager with the obnoxiously large excel spreadsheet–riddled with macros and formulas that resemble the equation Matt Damon wrote on the board in Goodwill Hunting. The one that is the end all be all of reporting and forecasting (but ironically cannot be explained by anyone in the company). When you offer a more practical and efficient solution to something like this, it diminishes the value of its creator, and makes them feel like their expertise is no longer needed as much. Over time, even on a much smaller scale, employees build on their security– and if you ask them to change their way of thought, culture, or procedures, they see it as a tornado coming through and destroying what has been built.
Another advantage, which may often times be an illusion, is the feeling of control that can be had from developing a rigid structure or daily routine. Most employees feel that by forming a go to routine, they have a good grasp on their role and set of duties. By developing a schedule and procedures that are predictable and secure, employees gain a better sense of control. When you disrupt this flow, even if it is to simply automate or increase efficiency in parts of the routine, many people see this as loss of control.
If it ain’t broke..
As previously mentioned, my passion and career is based around helping people and companies become better. Let me say it once more– helping people and companies BECOME BETTER.
Notice how I did not say Helping people and companies stay good. On more than one occasion, I have had CFO’s and VP’s look up at me in a conference room and proudly offer “if it ain’t broke, why fix it?” What the particular cases were, I cannot remember precisely. But my response will hopefully never be forgotten: “I understand. But just because it isn’t broken, doesn’t mean it couldn’t run a whole lot better!” Many companies I work with are family operated companies that have been around for decades, and made their way through generation to generation. Often times, this can be one of the most powerful forces against change, because the operational processes and mentalities of the organization have gone from simple habits, to intimate traditions. Because companies like these use outdated practices and methods, but still run a financially healthy business, they often feel changing any part of their plan would be nothing short of an economical risk. And while part of the statement is sometimes true (“it ain’t broke”), the mentality that simply not being broken dictates a success has to be eliminated. In today’s competitive environment, simply “not being broken” is a poor benchmark, and is derived from a mentality that will ultimately lead to failure.
In my particular engagements, the changes we make are drastic. Often times we revamp entire processes within the organization. This transition requires learning, training, practicing, and implementing of many procedures, methods, and even mentalities. The transition requires commitment and action from employees, and this leg work is usually supplemental to the normal day to day duties of the employees. And it is during this transitional period that Kanter’s Law becomes into effect, and unforeseen glitches and obstacles usually arise. It is during these times that I as a consultant, pragmatic in nature, have to continuously offer guidance and reassurance of the changes taking place.
These are just 5 of the seemingly countless reasons people and employees are reluctant to change. Change management is, and will continue to be, a necessary evil in business. The only way to properly manage change is to eliminate the fear and negative thoughts that people have around it. One thing is certain in today’s business environment– Heraclitus was dead on when he said “Change is the only constant”.
This article was originally posted by Hunter Montgomery on Linkedin