A parable and a myth about Change Management

Article by Ken Thompson, last updated July 2017

There is a theory in change management circles that if you are able to show people the benefits of a proposed change then they will embrace it.

This is false: the vast majority of people resist or best case resign themselves to change – very few welcome it!

I am not just talking about a specific change but any change - most people in organizations are already at, or beyond, their comfortable capacity in terms of their time and commitments. Even if the benefits of your change are great the extra effort in the short or medium term most likely will be too much for people to take on board to get the benefits of the “delayed gratification”.

Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, underscores this point in his wonderful book of daily thoughts where he tells the story of a child with a speech stammer. The parents are wondering why their child is not welcoming and embracing the treatment. The doctor then sits the parents down and tells them that to the child, losing their stammer will be just like losing a precious possession. The stammer has become part of who the child is – part of their sense of identity and self-worth. 

The bottom line of this story is that the only people who welcome change are those who initiate and therefore control it!

Therefore, if you really want somebody to embrace a change you should not try and sell them the change but instead you should give them the power to influence and control it. 

But there is a cost!

Your new change partners might want to “change your change”– so you need to ask yourself do I really want them to embrace this change or am I happy if simply resign themselves to accepting the change. 

Even if you do give them control of the change you are under obligation to help them to find the capacity in their already busy lives to take it on board.

It seems to me a bit like the current debate in the UK about EU standards. One proposal is "2 for 1" which suggests that for every new standard (change) we adopt we must strike-out 2 old ones. "2 for 1" is not a bad idea for change too - as a leader you need to be really supportive when your colleagues ask you what can they stop doing to create capacity to successfully adopt new change!

So expecting people to change by seeing the benefits is a myth; people only change when they can control or, at least, influence the change.

Checkout Ken Thompson’s latest book on Change Management and Change Management Business Simulation Game.

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Ken Thompson

Ken is a practitioner, author and speaker on Leadership, Collaborative Working, High Performing Teams, Change Management, Project Management and Business Acumen. His work has featured in major publications including The Guardian , Wired Magazine, The Huffington Post and The Henry Ford Magazine. Ken has also spoken at many international events including TEDx, the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI), Learn Tech (London) and NASA.

Ken is Founder of Business Simulations Ltd.

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