Change Management and the Law of Diminishing Returns

People HATE change.
They loathe and despise it. They see it, abhor it and team up to fight it.
Mind you, not all people, all the time. But certainly most people, much of the time

These are the opening lines of the post, Convincing the Resistant by fellow Lead Change contributor Tristan Bishop. “Most people, much of the time” certainly reflects the uphill battle that leaders face when implementing change.

But exactly how many people, and how often? If you’re to believe a recent NPR story, it would appear that for a small percentage of folks, the need to change never occurs. In a highly entertaining Morning Edition story Tools Never Die. Whaddaya Mean, Never?, Cool Tools blog editor Kevin Kelly (and author of the book What Technology Wants) boldly says, "I say there is no species of technology that have ever gone globally extinct on this planet." NPR’s science correspondent Robert Krulwich then spends the remainder of the story trying to prove Kelly wrong. The thing is, he can’t. A sample of things still being made:

  • Paleolithic hammers
  • 6 pages of agricultural tools from an 1895 Montgomery Ward & Co. Catalogue
  • Carbon paper

Krulwich is still on a mission to prove Kelly wrong via his blog. Regardless of whether he finds a truly extinct tool or not, it’s clear that when it comes to change, there will always be hold outs. The fact that people hold on to cherished, albeit, outdated, forms of technology points to an element of the human condition that leaders must acknowledge:

When implementing change, there are diminishing returns for convincing the resistant.

It’s the economic principle of the Law of Diminishing Returns boiled down to its simplest terms: “the gain is not worth the pain."1 A leader committed to a change aims for 100% change adoption. And a wise leader will have a back up plan in place in the event there are a few resisters. There comes a point in every change initiative when a leader must consider the extra effort needed to get those last few hold outs on board.

I’m intrigued by the notion of how a leader determines when “enough is enough” in change management efforts. Will you engage with me in conversation around this idea?

What does your experience tell you about the law of diminishing returns in change management—what percentage of adopters do you need before the change will take hold?

And, how does a leader deal with the resisters— in a character-based way?

1 Source: businessdictionary.com