We had an organization come to us that was struggling with getting sales trajectories turned around - a common problem for many companies. Through extensive discussions, we identified a wide variety of issues, from bloated inventory to high-cost/low-return investments, to ineffective marketing strategies - all of which could be easily changed to get sales back on track.
The team agreed that these areas needed addressing, and were eager to get sales moving up. Yet, nothing happened. Literally nothing. Follow up meetings and discussions resulted in rehashing the strategies and discussing justifications for maintaining the status quo. Time was of the essence, as the organization was struggling to stay afloat.
Why did the leaders resist the opportunity to change?
We often believe that bringing logical arguments to the table is the foundation for instigating change. Whether by an outside consultant or an internal employee, many hours are frequently burned researching best practices, identifying proven approaches to success and generating piles of data to prove a case. Often times, multiple parties agree that an issue exists, and the fact that change is needed. However, just as often, the gap remains between action and inaction.
This occurs not because the data is flawed, or that one piece of information is missing that can take the discussion from idea to action. It happens because we are people. People who often want to make decisions based on logic, but are inherently guided by emotion and past experiences. Yet we continually try to build our case by piling on more data, instead of examining the three underlying reasons why change doesn't occur:
Digesting the concept of change takes time.
When building a case, we often lose sight of the fact we've been immersed with reading and research, and have inadvertently used that time to digest the concept of the change proposed.
However, when delivered to another for the first time, they haven't had the luxury of thinking it through. Depending on how often an organization deals with change, it may be very likely that weeks, months or even years will pass before individuals will truly internalize the idea. You'll need to set your expectations accordingly and adjust your approach along the way.
Coming to terms with being wrong/fear of the unknown.
Fundamentally, change of any type subtly hints that what you were doing prior isn't correct. It insinuates that something was missed along the way.
With our client, it was clear that sales were slumping, and the strategic decisions they had made weren't working. Yet, a new idea for change was taken as a judgment on previous decisions - as a determination the decisions made in the past weren't valid in the current circumstances. In short, it became personal. Often times, people will struggle with this emotional conflict no matter how much data you plop on the table. And more data simply makes the situation worse.
In addition, the change itself, even if thoroughly planned, is still an unknown. The outcomes, the process, and even unforeseen obstacles all plague change. People often default to the familiar – the status quo – simply because it is familiar and known, even if the result is more of the same. This often results in a "hope and pray" strategy, rather than actually implementing the change required to improve the situation.
Internalizing the breadth and impact of the change.
Even when it's crystal clear that change must happen, the concept can still be extremely intimidating. Change might require massive movement, or dealing with challenging situations. It may require a lot of time, additional resources, and extra effort above and beyond the usual day. This can be overwhelming, and people will often mire themselves in analyzing the perceived burden the change will create.
Change often requires a new way of thinking, and this change-over requires ample mental processing. Will this change negatively impact my job? Do I trust this change is in my best interest? Will we even be able to complete this change or will we simply waste time and effort with no true outcomes?
While we all attempt to use data and logic to make the case for change in our organizations, making change occur is much more an exercise in psychology than in analytics. Next time you are looking to create change, think about the human side of your business case and consider whether you're effectively addressing the emotionally driven parts as well.
Andrea Belk Olson is the MSC and CEO of Pragmadik, a consulting firm that streamlines internal and external communications and improves organizational cultures. More information is also available at www.pragmadik.com.