What is change really about? Why is it that at times folks fight against change and other times folks embrace change? What is going on here? Allow me to give you my take by sharing my story with you.
At 9:34am 16th March 2016 I arrived at the Accident & Emergency wing of the Royal Berkshire Hospital. At the end of the day the surgical staff operated on my lower back for three hours. Why? Cauda equina!
Some 10 years ago I started experiencing considerable back pain. The kind of back pain where I could not move. This pain got worse and worse. Eventually I consulted a neurosurgeon. His point of view? One day you will need spinal surgery. His advice? Make lifestyle changes, take painkillers when necessary, and put off surgery for as long as you can so as to benefit from medical know how.
I followed the advice. In the process I gave up almost all of the activities that left me feeling alive: trekking in the mountains, tennis, badminton, cycling, visiting far away places… Eventually I even gave up playing table-tennis. Please get a sense of my loss: my favourite holidays were those in far away places usually with some trekking in the mountains; my favourite spring/summer sport is tennis; my favourite winter sport is badminton; and I love playing table-tennis.
My wife sensing the loss of my world, and my self, encouraged me, again and again, to undergo surgery. My mother-in-law (French) even volunteered to take me to a French surgeon who specialised in spinal surgery. I refused the surgery (whether in England or in France) and lived with pain.
Why did I refuse to undergo surgery for the last ten years? Was I scared of the operation? No. Was I concerned about all that I would need to do to recover post surgery? No. Was I worried about the cost of the surgery? No. So why did I not undergo surgery? Because, I was told that there was a 2 in 100 likelihood that I would be paralysed as a result of the surgery. For me there is no loss more devastating than this one. This was not a loss I was willing to risk then nor today.
Why did I willing go to the Royal Berkshire Hospital on Wednesday 16th March 2016 and almost beg the surgeons to operate on me? What changed? Before 16th March there was a 2 in 100 chance that I would be paralysed if I underwent the operation. On the 16th March there was something like a 98 out of 100 chance that I would be paralysed if I did not undergo the operation!
So what is my personal take on change?
1-Folks do not resist change. My 21 years old son quit a management position paying £24k to take a junior position paying £12k. Why? He was bored in his old job – he could do it in his sleep. His new job promises him that which matters to him at this stage of his life.
2-Folks resist loss – the loss of that which matters to them: identity, home, the familiar, social ties, possibilities, status, income, autonomy, choice, dignity.
3-Most organisational change calls forth resistance because folks have rightly worked out that the change involves them being stripped of things that matter to them so that their loss can be turned into gain for those in senior management.
4-Most change management practitioners are charlatans. I know more than one change management expert who cannot (even thought want to) cultivate meaningful / loving relationships with their spouses and/or children. Their knowledge of the dark arts vanishes where it matters the most – at home.
5-If you wish folks to embrace change then ensure that this change genuinely enriches their lives. And here I invite you to reflect back on my story. When the major back surgery showed up as enriching my living (rather than impoverishing it drastically) I willing embraced the surgery. Now every day involves 3 hours of exercises that are not pleasant yet necessary.
Finally, I leave you with this thought on CX, innovation, and digital transformation: most folks in senior management positions have not really embraced any of these because these show up as risky – they involve loss! Better to talk the talk and continue tinkering (using proven methods) with business as usual to improve short-term earnings.