Change is Hard...For a Reason

If you've ever held out hope that some sort of organizational change effort you were engaged in would ever really take root, only to have your hopes dashed, you know, "change is hard." The generally accepted reality among CEOs is that in large organizations, fundamental change takes seven years. Seven. YEARS. Even if you just try to change your little part of the organization, with the power a manager has, you know that even your little team of folks has their own inertia.

Why is change hard? Because it's supposed to be. Because we're made that way.

There's a growing body of evidence, from neuropsychologists, and behavioral economists, that our natural tendency is risk aversion. Most of us, if we are given the option to make a bet with a return of 110 USD, while only risking 100 USD - with a 50/50 outcome probability - will decline. This is a GREAT bet in the real world. You would certainly get rich with this bet and a little capital.

Of course, almost no bets work that well. Casinos may advertise all kinds of winners, and big winners at that, but surely the math of profitable casinos tells us something about whether our bets make sense there in the long run. I'll never forget going to a casino and seeing a sign in the parking lot saying they returned 97% of their bets. This is an inducement???!?? (Please no emails about the 3% (and more) being made up for by the thrill of the games.)

We avoid that bet because most of us tend to be, on the whole, risk averse.

But again, why? Why would we avoid a sure thing?

Because we're made that way. Because a part of our brain doesn't want us to BELIEVE it's a sure thing over time, because there's a risk of loss there now.

When human babies are born, we can only sense two of the five tastes. Sweet and bitter. Why? As a baby, why would being able to taste sweetness be good for you, why would it help the species? Because sweet means sugar, and sugar is energy. Sweet doesn't just "taste good" - we're programmed to consume easily available energy.

Okay, but what about bitter? Bitter tastes don't lead to more energy. No, but bitter tastes do correlate very well with naturally occurring poisons. Bitter doesn't just "taste bad" - we're programmed to avoid poisons.

But the real story is about those other tastes: salty, sour, and umami. What do babies do with those? Let's just do a thought experiment, or for you parents, a memory experiment. Think for a minute about carrots, or peas, or squash, or green beans. Are they sweet or bitter?

Neither. Now ask yourself: what do babies do when you introduce these foods to them for the first time?

They spit them out.

Why? Because they're made to be risk averse.

That baby doesn't know - because she wasn't programmed for it, and she hasn't learned it yet - that those foods have energy in them. It's far better for the species to only consume SURE THINGS when it comes to energy, and avoid uncertain foods that MIGHT be poison.

And we're all still, in some vestigial way, made to be similarly risk averse. Your directs don't dislike your changes because they're yours..they dislike them because they're changes. People in the organization don't dislike change because they've logically analyzed the pros and cons. They dislike change because they...just dislike change. They're made that way.

Disliking change isn't just normal - it's programmed into us from day one.

So, next time you go about change, remind yourself: They. Are. NOT. Going. To. Like. This. It's not you, it's not the change, it's not the idea.

If nothing else, let's not be surprised when there is resistance. It's normal.

Don't overreact when your team acts...like "babies". ;-) You were one too. You've just lived with your idea longer, and it's not your first bite of those peas.


Adore this post!

Exactly spot on with what I needed to hear today. Keep it up~ 

Great post!

 This is spot on and a different way to look at it. I never knew that about babies taste buds but having two children I can remember those experiences with introducing food.

Ryan D. Lybeck

DISC: 6711

Another thought about perceived risk

I have a slightly different take on the source of the risk aversion.

In staying with the "assume positive intent" theme from today's TITIT I believe that the vast majority of employees come to work each day and do what they understand to be the right thing for the company's success. If we're saying that the change we're trying to drive requires them to change what they are doing then at some level we are saying that what they were doing was wrong (which does not match their self-perception of being a good employee). And the vast majority of change management efforts do not adequately address that cognitive dissonance. So the risk they feel comes in large part from the belief that they will suffer some negative consequence from changing their behavior - since their previous behavior was right the new behavior must be wrong somehow. This could stem from believing that what they were doing was the best way or that what you are telling them to do won't work or that their reward systems have not changed (see Fournies book Why Employees Don't Do What They Are Supposed To and What To Do About It for suggested categories of behavior drivers).

So in my experience with change management the key is to address that perceived risk directly (I call it excuse elimination) and methodically work the employee through the mental hurdles delaying implementation of the new behaviors until they comply or you have eliminated all excuses other than a fundamental refusal to comply (a 'clean' performance issue).

Just starting the roll out!!

I have been listening to the pod casts for about 2 months now. I re-listened to the one-on-one pod casts again. I downloaded the e-mail to help me start the roll out process. Now, this morning was the actual time I personalized the e-mail and figured out my available time slots and actually SENT the e-mail. I had an increased heart rate! I was feeling kind of silly for feeling scared. But after reading this blog, I had a sigh of relief. Change isn't supposed to be easy or natural. That makes me feel so much better. I have been excited for weeks about the idea of implementing the Trinity and have a 6 month plan. Using the e-mail that you all provide helped a great deal. I believe I will be buying the entire Trinity roll out e-mail series to make sure my verbiage and tone stay consistent over the next 6 months. My first 0ne-on-One's are scheduled for March 6th. I plan to take some deep breaths, not expect to do it perfectly, but to stay true to the MT guidance about One-on-ones.

Mark, Mike and crew, You have energized me. I am grateful to have discovered MT and CT. Thank you.