Four Steps to Managing the "Change Equation"

What's the best way of managing the "Change Equation"? In the final of this special four-part series on change management, Dr. Robert Swaim, looks at a "diagnostic tool" that can be used to systematically analyze and plan change efforts.

Read Part I: Nine Reasons Organizations Need Change

Read Part II: Why People Aren't As Resistant to Change As You Might Think

Read Part III: Eight Reasons Change Efforts Fail

The following is a discussion of a tool that can be used early on in analyzing and planning the change effort, the "Change Equation" as depicted in Figure 1. It is important to note for the mathematically inclined that the equation is used for illustrative purposes and cannot be quantified. The elements of the equation include; C or the desired change, F or the situation in the future (desired state or vision) as a result of the change, N or the situation now, P or the plan of how to get from the now to the future, and R or potential resistance to the change. It should be noted that the R could also be denoted as PL or perceived loss. That is, what those who will be impacted by the change effort perceive they will lose as a result of the change (power, prestige, benefits, reporting relationships, authority and responsibility, etc.) as previously discussed.

If the sum of the future minus the present is positive, and multiplied by the change plan is greater than the potential resistance, the change effort will be successful.

Managing the Change Equation

The following is a discussion of each element of the equation and how the Change Leader can manage it.

Change Equation Step 1 – Managing the "N"

The first step in managing the Change Equation deals with "N" or the present or situation "Now." The Change Leader must create dissatisfaction with the present situation and create an awareness of a need for change. As an example, "Customers are complaining about our products’ poor quality. We are losing sales and good customers as a result. If this continues we may have to close the plant, lay off workers, etc. etc." The job here is create as much dissatisfaction with the present situation as possible (deficits or (-)). Using Education and Communication and Involvement and Participant Tactics are recommended here. Share information with those that will be impacted by the change such as results from customer surveys, task forces, focus groups, etc.

As Drucker pointed out, it is also important to acknowledge what is going right and that not everything needs to be changed. This is important to reinforce morale, protect other’s self worth, build creditability in the Change Leader, and helps to reduce resistance.

Consider how Obama managed the "N" and created dissatisfaction with the present situation (2007) in the United States. In David Limbaugh’s book, Crimes Against Liberty, An Indictment of President Barack Obama he writes, "By luck he (Obama) came onto the presidential scene when we were beset by financial crisis (2007) and the public had grown weary of the Iraq War." He went on to write, "Obama seized on the public’s mood, played their fears like a virtuoso musician, and depicted America as being in dire straights from which only he could delivery us."

Change Equation Step 2 – Managing the "F"

Managing the "F" presents a Vision for the future – what will things be like after the change. Here it is necessary to show the benefits of the change as well as what will be preserved. The goal is to create and present the value (+) of moving to the future, that deficits (-) will be removed, organizational needs will be satisfied, and value will be obtained. Also, convert any potential perceived loss (resistance) into gain.

In communicating the Future, the communications campaign should include:

  • Whether the way people work will change.
  • What new skills may be required and how they will be provided.
  • Whether people will have to behave differently.
  • Whether the change will present a good opportunity for the people or there may be some negative consequences.
  • Link the change effort to show consistency with the organization’s Mission, Vision, and Values.
  • How the change supports the organization’s business direction and objectives.
  • Focus on people – they need to feel valued and included.

The figure below illustrates how the first two elements of the Change Equation (Now, and Future) should be managed.

Of course Obama eventually went on to describe the "F" and that he would transform politics in the U.S., he would be the most transparent president in history, that he would bring all parties together and not negotiate behind closed doors, and broadcasting those negotiations on television so that the America people can see what the choices are, and that having extraordinary gifts he could unite people around a new consensus to solve America’s problems, that he would end petty partisanship that has consumed Washington for so long and that he would restore America’s standing in the world.

Change Equation Step 3 – Managing the "R"

Managing the "R" deals with those who will be impacted by the change effort and overcoming potential resistance or perceived loss or what people think they will lose as a result of the change effort. Participation and Involvement Strategies and Tactics are most appropriate to use here – involving those who will be impacted by the change or representatives of those groups in the change planning process in order that they gain a sense of ownership in the desired change. Care must be taken however to ensure that the horse does not become a camel because of their involvement.

Change Equation Step 4 – Managing the "P"

As pointed out, having an incomplete plan can contribute to resistance to the change effort. Therefore, it is essential that the plan meet the following criteria:

1. The plan must not be complicated and should be easily understood.

2. The plan must be perceived as doable and present the credibility of the Change Leader.

3. The plan must not consume large amounts of time or resources or be disruptive to operations.

4. The plan must indicate what will be preserved.

Other criteria includes involving those who will be impacted by the change effort in the planning process and communicating that the plan will be successful and produce the desired results.

Elements of the Plan

The change effort plan should include the following elements:

1. Description of the "N" & "F" – What the organization looks like today and what you want it to look like after the change.

2. Communications Plan – Informing everyone about the change, as well as keeping them up-to-date as your change effort evolves.

3. Recognition Plan – How you will celebrate successes and reward those employees that support you and your change effort?

4. Guidelines – Defining processes, roles and responsibilities in order to reduce conflict and potential power struggles.

5. Measurements – Identifying accountability and tracking success.

There are many benefits to having a good change effort plan. First, it acts as a roadmap and lets everyone know where we are going, how to get there, and when we have arrived. Second, it is a communications tool that lets everyone know why the change is needed, clarifies any misunderstandings, tells employees what they need to do, and what they can expect of you. Third, it is a marketing tool to help sell the employees on the change effort. Other benefits include; a quality assurance tool to provide quality control of the change effort, a credibility builder to let employees know you are in charge and in control, and a resistance reducer providing evidence that the change effort will be a success.

As can be seen, the Change Equation can be a good diagnostic tool in analyzing and planning a change effort. Experienced Change Leaders use this tool early in the process to help determine what groups might be impacted and potentially resist the change effort and thus select the appropriate change strategies and tactics.

And, if at the end of this 4-part series you still have any hesitations about your ability to make change happen, I refer you to this quote by Peter F. Drucker: "To try to make the future is highly risky. It is less risky however, than not to try to make it."

Read Part I: Nine Reasons Organizations Need Change

Read Part II: Why People Aren't As Resistant to Change As You Might Think

Read Part III: Eight Reasons Change Efforts Fail