Wednesday, March 26

If 80 Percent Of People Won't Change, Why Force Them?

Why Change?
Jim Earley has it right. When forced to embrace change, 10 percent will respond like James Bond, 10 percent will respond like Moe Howard from the Three Stooges, and 80 percent will do nothing at all.

He even drove the point home by citing Alan Deutschman's book, Change or Die: The Three Keys to Change at Work and in Life, which found only one of nine people will make lifestyle changes (diet, exercise, etc.) even after they are told they could prolong their life, restore their health, and even reverse diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.

Get that? Only 11 percent of people choose life over death. 

Everyone else will more or less choose death, about 89 percent. And, in keeping with the Moe Howard analogy, about 10 percent of those are likely to hasten the pace by throwing all caution to the wind. It's inevitable anyway, they might say, just before they sit back down on the couch.

Most people, even those who belong in the 80 percent, will think this is crazy. I'm not one of them. I think it is crazy to expect anything different. People resist change and they have a good reason.

• Many employers do not articulate a reasonable, achievable post-change vision.
• Many employees mistrust the motivations of leadership for organizational change.
• Many employees rightly know that change is accompanied by loss of job security.
• Many employees cite bad timing, because they don't want their workflow disrupted.
• Many people are predisposed to resist change because the present feels safe and stable.

This doesn't just relate to organizational change, but change in every aspect of our lives. As Stan Goldberg put it in his article in Psychology Today, being is easier than becoming. But I might take that thinking a step further by saying that being is easier than becoming until becoming becomes more rewarding than being. Simply put, change requires a long-term plan with benchmarks.

A personal example about change and momentum. 

My doctor recently told me that I should become a vegetarian. There are a number of reasons, but mostly he has read the widely circulated study published by JAMA Internal Medicine. He has not, it seems, read the less circulated study that notes that people with high cholesterol live longer.  Enough said.

That isn't the point. The point is that his statement led to a lesson in effective communication. When he first told me that I should become a vegetarian — a reasonably athletic 40-something who works out almost daily and does watch his diet despite being raised in the meat-and-potato Midwest — I laughed out loud. I was a skinny, less fit 30-something once upon a time and have no desire for it.

Except, my immediate reaction was the direct result of ineffective communication and not a rebut of what he was saying. And since he didn't know it, I decided to help him. I'll make more changes.

My plan is much more reasonable. I can change my diet by introducing more fish (not so easy in the desert) and fiber and see where we end up. And then, depending on the outcomes, make some more changes or not. The way I see it, some numbers will even out or perhaps I'll eventually be relegated to give up meat because the change won't be as drastic then as it would be today. Slow motion is sometimes better.

A professional example about change and mentorship.

Change for everybody.
I had a conversation with someone who currently works in human resources about this very issue, even if he might not see it that way. He asked me what I would do (and have done) when confronted by an underperforming employee.

I knew what he wanted me to say, but I just couldn't bring myself to say it. He wanted me to say that I might bring human resources into the loop because they have procedures. Sure, there is some validity in this direction for extreme cases at large organizations. However, it seems to me there are better ways before the approach is formalized.

A better method is mentorship, specifically outlining a step program that improves whatever deficiencies the employee might have and then giving them one step at a time. I've used this method to help people improve their writing skills for the better part of two decades. It works for performance issues as well.

Why? Much like Earley wrote his post that inspired this one, people will literally do nothing if they are confronted with a change that do not believe is needed, trusted, or leads to something better. They will literally do nothing even if you tell them their job is on the line. In many cases, they are so entrenched in denial, improvement will not be possible. So unless you want to let someone go, it is crazy to confront people with an ultimatum that will cause 90 percent of them to fail.

The same can be said for organizational change. Rather than convincing people that the organization needs change, try implementing small directional steps that establish trust, reward progress and encourage feedback in order to make employees stakeholders in the process. It's more effective.

After all, the way I see it, it's not just the people who are asked to make changes that can act like James Bond or Moe Howard. People who expect changes to be made can come across that way too.
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