Conventional wisdom suggests people don’t like change. Actually change is fine with people. If it weren’t we would hear stories of lottery winners declining large prize monies, people avoiding marriage and parenting, folks turning down promotions and raises. You see those are “good “changes. Typically, good change promises to make things better, feels under control for its recipients and comes at little or no cost.
So it is really “bad” change that people want no part of, right? Not exactly. It isn’t the change at all, it is the loss. People will do anything to avoid loss. They will lie, cheat, steal, ignore facts – whatever it takes to avoid losing something they value. Asking people to do something unfamiliar is the loss of competence. Changing with whom they work is the loss of a relationship. If they can’t see themselves in the vision you are describing we call that loss of future. The list goes on. The “status quo” as we call it, is how people want things to be – familiar, reliable – even if it isn’t great for them on the whole.
In fact, most “dysfunction” in complex systems usually can be understood as an elaborate “loss-avoidance’ strategy. This is a powerful insight into leading, understanding and living through change. Most change programs that fail do so not because they weren’t potentially valuable or innovative – the champions just weren’t committed to the change enough to overcome the commitment to avoiding loss of their opposers. We see this over and over across all sectors. McKinsey cites 70% of all transformation programs fail to deliver. That’s a massive investment in futility and frustration – say nothing of the downstream loss of potential.
Well, you could follow Dilbert’s advice: Change is good – you go first! Seriously, leaders have to develop the skills of distributing loss at a rate people can absorb. This isn’t rationalizing or excusing the loss. It means acknowledging compassionately the ask you are making and taking the time and care to bring people along, relentlessly, empathetically and with purpose. It is most important for you to understand what you’re asking of people and what it is costing them to go along. Sometimes, feeling understood is enough for people so we recommend that is always the starting point.
So what are you asking of your people that will be experienced as a loss to them?