Process Change, Fear, and Investing

Jeff Cole

Danger sign

Those in the stock market have a saying:  'Buy low and sell high.' Why is it then, that so many people do just the opposite?  Two words: fear and greed.  Fear is actually so prevalent that the CBOE Volatility Index or VIX, is known as the Fear Index. The more fearful people get, the more volatility there is in price. Interestingly, that volatility can spike right before a quarterly earnings announcement. So what?

The same principle applies in process change. People can only absorb so much change at once. When met with too much change, people breach their absorption capacity threshold and escalate up a scale of dysfunctional behavior in a somewhat predictable manner. This ranges from minor loss of focus to physically destructive behaviors. One behavior, toward the lower end of the scale, is calling in sick – taking a 'mental health' day. There’s so much going on here I just can’t go in to work – I need to get away from this for a day.

Knowing this, a colleague and I once did a non-scientific study. We created a timeline showing major change announcements in our division and graphed over that, sick-day data from HR for that year along with a multi-year average to see cold and flu season, normal levels, etc. Interestingly, we saw a visible spike in sick days right before some major change announcements (spikes that would be outside the Bollinger Bands for those investing in-the-know readers).  Possible reasons? Waiting and not knowing is the worst part, rumor mill and perhaps word of mouth or leaks. Left to the imagination, people sometimes conjure up worse scenarios than what will actually play out (and that can be exhausting).

Armed with this information, what should we do? Here are a couple tips.

Communicate early and often
The more transparent you can make your process changes, the better in many cases. People have ample time to see the change coming and get used to it.

Engage the target audience
Better to have a change done with you versus to you. Find ways to engage those impacted by the change so they feel listened to, respected, and part of the change. Make everyone feel like an 'insider' on the change. Then it becomes 'our' effort, not 'corporate’s' effort.

Let people hear about it from their direct boss
Cascade your change communications throughout the chain of command. Once people hear about a change, they may ask their boss 'do we really have to do that?' anyway, so best to understand that your direct boss is onboard and wants the change to roll out smoothly. Consider a communication strategy based on what is best for the audience, not what best fits the schedule or ego of a senior manager or communications person.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, fear is rising among my dogs that snack time has changed and they are rapidly escalating up a scale of barking behavior. Happy change!