Have you ever found yourself wanting to implement some kind of change either at home or in your place of business and realized you didn’t have the support to make it happen? Now by change, all I mean is something new. Maybe a desire to purchase a new lawnmower, or more critical, the need to adjust employee benefits, either way, both require buy-in from those affected.
As you probably can imagine, research shows that approximately 70% of all change initiatives fail; more insightful are the reasons why: miscommunication, no communication, not ‘selling’ the idea first, starting too soon, lack of planning, and so on. All this leads to a lack of support from those expected to actually implement the change.
At times it may seem like we’re the only one consciously thinking about how to improve a system or save some money and therefore struggle to understand why others don’t see it the same way. What we fail to acknowledge is that by the time we present the change to someone, we’ve invested a lot of time into the decision, making sure it’s exactly what we want, and then turn around and expect others to buy in, wholeheartedly, with minimal thought.
So how do we get this buy in that is so critical to the success of our change? First we must recognize that people fall into three categories along a change continuum. They are either inherently conservative in nature and thus, resist change because of the unknown; pragmatic, and only change out of necessity, following the mantra ‘if it aint broke, don’t fix it;’ or an originator, completely comfortable with change and looking to try something new at any possible moment (Musselwhite and Ingram).
-Change Style Indicator, Discovery Learning
Knowing how people perceive change is a critical component in this process. If I know the people I’m needing support from are much more on the innovative or ‘Originator’ side of the spectrum, then I can feel comfortable talking freely about future possibilities and change; whereas, my conversation might be somewhat different with a ‘Conserver.’ Because of their adversity to change, it will take a much slower and deliberate approach – providing time for research, consideration and weighing of options, all of which does not guarantee support, but will allow them to determine the need for the change on their own.
No matter what the preference, when you’re the one implementing the change it can be a challenge, thus our ability to repeatedly do it correctly becomes critical.
According to Richard Beckhard and David Gleicher, the secret to change isn’t really a secret at all; it is however, systematic and constant, and requires diligence on the part of the champion. Think back to the last time you tried to implement a change. Once you were convinced the change was appropriate, how much time did you spend planning the change – what it would look like, how it would be rolled out, or who was going to coordinate it, before you started convincing others? If you’re like me, there have probably been a number of times where someone has responded to one of your questions with, “well this is something new and we’re not quite sure what to expect. We’ll need to wait and see.”
Beckhard and Gliecher believed that three things had to be present for meaningful change to occur, and that without these three components change initiatives where inherently flawed and at risk of failing.
Now I want to spend a moment on the word ‘meaningful.’ When Beckhard and Gleicher used this word it was in the context of organizational change, and the belief was that while anyone with enough effort or resources could push a change forward, what was required to sustain the change was support and commitment from those on the ground, without which, the change could not sustain itself.
Back to the idea of change, it was believed that the one flaw many of us make when implementing change was that as innovators, we’re prone to immediately jumping in head first, without giving thought to what’s below. We must start with the belief that there is a significant amount of work to be done on the part of the change implementer before the first words of change are ever spoken in order to ensure a successful implementation – but where to begin?
D x V x F >
Using Beckhard and Gleicher’s formula we begin to lay a path in order to overcome “R” or resistance. The resistance is the pushback we get when trying to implement something new or modify something that’s been in place for a long time. Whether the lawnmower or the change in employee benefits, each comes with its own kind of resistance designed to disrupt and possibly derail the process, and many times it’s the actions we take prematurely that awaken the resistance. So let’s break down this formula.
The ‘D’, which is the first step in our change process stands for Dissatisfaction, and more specifically dissatisfaction with the status quo. In essence, we must be able to articulate why it is unsafe to stay where we are. In the case of the lawnmower, we might begin by explaining how our current machine is inadequate, unable to cut effectively, and is expensive to maintain. We might even say that the rate of repair required each year would pay for a new machine in four years. Say something, anything that would make it seem foolish to stick with the original machine. For movement or acceptance to occur, we must recognize that it has to become uncomfortable for us to stay where we are.
Once we’ve developed a clear case for change, we must share our vision of where we’d like to get to. In this case the ‘V’ stands for Compelling Vision. An interesting note about change is that there are typically two types of people present in any change: those who lead and those who follow, and those who lead are on either end of the spectrum. They are either for or against the change, leading the group forward into uncharted territory, or leading the group back to familiar ground. On the flip side, those who follow typically rest in the middle, and will usually end up following whichever person seems to have a better idea of where he/she is going and how he/she wants to get there. Knowing that, we must always be sure that we have a clear vision of the goal we’re trying to reach and the approach we’re going to use. Sharing that with people at every opportunity becomes our passion as we know the resistance is also actively recruiting to their side.
For years John Kennedy has been identified as the driving force behind the space program. However, it wasn’t because he was technically savvy, but more so because he never wavered in his vision for America during the space race.
“We will put a man on the moon and bring
him back safely by the end of the century.”
Our vision for the lawnmower might sound something like this: “I’d like to find a machine at a reasonable price that allow us the ability to mow our lawn faster and save us money, both in fuel as well as repairs.”
Next in our sequence is the ‘F’ or First Steps. This is typically where we slip up. We starting ‘talking’ change before we’re ready to implement, and just talking about it is considered a first step. It is the act of initiating the change that classifies as a first step and because we’ve set the ball in motion, we’ve opened ourselves up to resistance.
Typically what we see in business is the interest in changing something that has been a standard for a long time, realizing that in order to succeed as an organization, we must change. It isn’t that the change is a bad or wrong, but without prepping the foundation for us to stand on; we eventually either succumb to the resistance or tear the fabric of the organization.
The key to this formula rests not in the individual parts but in the sum of the whole, recognizing that it is the D… times the V… times the F, in that sequence, that eventually topples the resistance.
If we are truly committed to implementing change within our organization, we must as be committed to doing it in a way that ensures success. I know Beckhard and Gleicher’s formula works because I’ve seen it; yet what is even more noticeable, is when the formula isn’t used. The change may still occur, but it’s usually meaningless with minimal buy-in or support. Think about that the next time you want to give your company a new vision, change a policy or procedure, or buy a new lawnmower.