Addicted to Change

Gonna have to face it: we're addicted to change.

I’m not a scientist or a psychologist. I define addiction my own way. You’re addicted to something when it’s not good for you, but you do it anyway. Over and over. By my definition, we’re addicted to change.

Consider the experience of one of my coaching clients. He worked for a large company for seven years. In that time, the company had at least one management fad per year. He described the situation this way: “We aspired to develop into Level 5 leaders, but we only got to Level 1 before we moved on to the next big thing.”

Incremental change goes on all the time. We're addicted to big change. We’re addicted to what we call a "change initiative."

Top executives impose change on those below them on the org chart. This works several ways.

A top executive reads a book and is impressed. Business book authors today come complete with pre-designed change package. They include books, workshops, assessment tools, and much, much more. The executive signs the company up for everything.

A top executive reads an article in the Wall Street Journal. It says all the other executives are reading a book. See paragraph above.

A top executive wants to make his or her "mark on the organization." This is a popular form of ego gratification. It springs from the belief that everything done before you got there was ineffective. The organization must change. The executive directs HR to find the snazziest cutting-edge program out there and implement it.

A top executive gets bored with day-to-day, boring yet efficient and profitable operations. He or she decides change will spice things up. See paragraph above.

The Business Guru Industry wants to make those top executive wishes come true. Training directors who want to prove their worth are the enablers of those executives. That leads to change, whether or not we need it.

How to Get It Right

Sometimes you need big change. This is rare, but it happens from time to time. Alas, it takes work and it's not very exciting after the first year. Here are some tips for getting it right.

Make sure the change is both needed and important.

Test your reasoning on an intelligent fifteen-year-old. They're smart enough to understand, but they don't care a whit about your company. They're absolutely fearless and will give you raw feedback. And they already know that you're not all that bright.

Involve the people in the company in defining the problem and crafting a solution. Listen to them. They know better than you about what should change. You’ll get a better result and buy-in, too. Then you won’t spend months selling them on your idea. And you won't complain about lack of enthusiasm for change you rammed down their throats.

Make sure you know why something should change. You will need to remember the why when the going gets tough. And it will get tough.

Give it time.

Give it time to work through all your systems. Big change affects everything. You won’t be able to plan this. You must dive in and discover what’s needed as you go.

Give it more time. Give it time to embed itself in your culture. That means changing your evaluation and compensation processes. Three to ten years seems about right.

Boss's Bottom Line

If you lead a successful change initiative it will be your main priority every day for years. Make sure the change you want is important enough and that your commitment to it is strong enough.

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