OPEX Top 10 Transformational BS (Bogus Statements): People don’t like Change

In previous articles we have previously looked at “Change Fatigue”, “Outsourcing”, delegating to PMO and the “infamous” Law of Diminishing Returns. This latest BS statement - that People don’t like Change - has been around for quite some time and is a classic self-fulfilling prophecy; it means many organisations start on the “back foot”, i.e. assuming that this will be the case and coming up with messages that drive people to think “oh, here we go again…”


Type “People don’t like change” into a search engine and you will find plenty to read, some of it will be backed by research, some of it just “hear say” or “Urban legend”. The fact is, people love change.  Human History is a collection of countless changes made at various levels and over various time frames.  Descartes famously said, “I think therefore I am”, and we should be under no doubt that he is thinking about change or something that will drive the need for Change.  


Here are 5 reasons why we hear “people don’t like change” and why this is, in fact, quite the contrary:


Reason No 1: Autocratic behaviour

People don’t like being changed.  This is very different to saying people don’t like change.  However, many transformation programs, even if they try to look otherwise, are very prescriptive in terms of the “What”, the “How”, the “Where”, the “When” and the “How much”. In such transformations, all the thinking is done by the few and all that is left for the majority is to execute according to the plan.  Can you imagine how frustrating this can be, especially if the plan is less than optimal? So, if this is the case, what is the solution?  If you believe you have the right people, why not provide them with the “What” and let them figure out the rest!  If your arguments are sufficiently convincing people will work out the timeframe and how to do it, especially if you equip them with the right methods and the appropriate empowering company culture. The more attractive the “What”, the faster it will happen.


Reason No 2: Readiness for Change

The big question that is not often considered is whether the Organisation is ready for Change. So let’s look at what we call the Instability Factor, an assessment that can be applied at an individual or group level and which is based on the principle that the more unstable we are, the more we are willing to change. Few organisations consider this natural human characteristic and those which do still often get it wrong; they use arguments that have nothing to do with their people. The Instability Factor (IF) makes you think in 4 dimensions, 2 are drivers for a better future, 1 is a driver to be dissatisfied with today’s current state and 1 is about how we feel during the change. Put in mathematical terms we have the following definition:


Instability Factor


Vision of a better future


Dissatisfaction with current situation

Financial cost of change

Emotional cost of change


Is it any surprise that people don’t like change, if you look at it this way? Using a scoring system from 1 (bad) to 10 (good), lets work out the score for someone who thought the vision of the future provided was poor (4), was fairly dissatisfied with current state (3), was not financially impacted by the cost of change (0) and was not reassured about how change would happen (8). Their IF would be 4+3-0-8= -1. Hardly any reason to be engaged, right?


Reason No 3: No opportunity to get on the bus

We often use the sentence “If you are not happy, you can get off the bus”, the bus being the company you work for.  But what about the opposite?  What about the ability to get on the bus, the bus being the group of people inside your company trying to make the Change?  We often forget that we employ people to do a certain job and if you look at DiSC theory you will see that 60% of people like Stability, 30% are Cautious, 7% are Intuitive and 3% are Dominant.  In other words, only 10% of your organisation is likely to embrace Change very easily and the vast majority will either protect what they have or need time to weigh the good vs the bad. That’s what you want if you are trying to run a company, right? If all your people were of the Dominant or Intuitive type, you would not have a company as people would be spending their time just trying to change in an uncontrolled manner! Just like the shirtless dancer video (https://youtu.be/fW8amMCVAJQ) you need to get the people to come and watch then nurture the first few followers so that the rest of us think it is either cool to join in or very bad to be the few that don’t.


Reason No 4: Having a “Change Management” box in your Transformation plan

I once had a boss who said, “you know you have failed when there is a change management box in your plan.” He was right; if people don’t decide for themselves that they need to change, there is little you can do to make it happen.  All activity that you put under that box is just you planning to make yourself busy at being busy!  Now this is not to say that you should do nothing to help people change, rather it is about being clear that you can either talk about it or simply do it: the simpler it looks, the easiest and fastest it will happen.


Reason No 5: When Change is the exception rather than the norm

Everybody knows and accepts (whether happily or not) that change needs to happen faster and faster. The problem lies with the time it takes to get started and the time it takes to wind down. Think of it as Return-On-Investment (ROI), i.e. look at the energy spent getting a Change initiative started and to winding down vs the actual change made. Was it worth all the talk, all the planning, all the communications, all the meeting, etc? Unless companies find a way to be in permanent change, you will never stop hearing that “People don’t like Change”. What’s surprising is that there is a solution to it and it has been around for a while: it’s called the Business System approach. Look at companies such as Danaher, Ingersoll Rand or Toyota.  Stop looking at the GE, Motorola or Allied Signal models, which were very successful only when there was significant external pressure and time to change. 


In conclusion, if you ever hear someone say those words again just remember that they probably did a poor job in creating the right environment for change. They probably adopted an out-of-date state of mind that came from the early industrial revolution days, where employee just did what they were told or forced to do.  They probably followed a deployment model that is no longer fit for purpose and they probably got caught up in tactical incremental change when what they sold was strategic breakthrough change.


If you’d like to know more about how we help leaders and employee of organisations embrace change and create Transformational Business Systems why not have a chat with us at the Amsterdam PEx conference later this year.


In our next issue, we’ll look whether Digital Transformation is all about the Technology.


Thank you for reading, and please feel free to provide feedback at Anthony.shingleton@ibm.com or through my Linkedin profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/anthonyshingleton/