The Bare Bones of Change

by:  Peter de Jager
bigstock_Top_View_Of_A_Business_Meeting_4913522Einstein is possibly the originator of the quote,“Everything should be made a simple as possible, but not simpler.” Whoever is due credit, this is a concise bit of wisdom. At the very least, it’s more polite than the more commonly used KISS version.

Before we get to the art of keeping things simple, it’s worth pointing out that we don’t really appreciate ‘simple’. Not just you, or I, but organizations in general seem allegoric to the notion that ‘less’ is often far more valuable than ‘more heaped upon more’.

Take a look at ANY of your existing ‘Policy and Guidelines’ for any area of responsibility in your organization; Security, HR, Press contacts, Safety etc. Note how many items of compliance are listed.

Now scurry over to the internet and search for “WHO Safe Surgery Checklist” – This Checklist is used in an increasing number of hospitals around the world. It contains a mere 22 questions, or ‘points of verification’ for the surgical teams. It is designed to be as ‘simple as possible, but not simpler’ – it has reduced deaths due to errors by 47%, reduced post operative complications by 36% and reduced returns to the operating table by 25%.

Now for a difficult question. How successful are the Safety Policy and Guidelines used in your organization at reducing accidents?

Fact. We are far more likely to adhere to a handful of carefully chosen safety guidelines, that we are to read the Policy and Guideline Manuals used in most organization. Simple trumps complex.

If there’s some truth in Einstein’s statement, then it is worthwhile to seek opportunities to deploy the concept. The question is where? Where’s the point of leverage in all organizations for examining something to uncover the simple? Might I suggest that the area of Change Management is ripe for some simplification?

Change is commonly described as, ‘complicated’ (to put it mildly). Given how often Change initiatives fail? There must be some truth in that assessment . Yet? Even if this is true, there must be some simple truths about Change that hold true from one situation to the next. Simple observations that help us get better at managing Change.

0.0 Change is when we go from A to B

It doesn’t get simpler than this.

1.0 It requires effort to go from A to B

This is also obvious. It doesn’t matter if we’re moving from one side of the room to the other, or relocating from one building to another, learning a new language, assimilating a new process, or working under a new manager.
It takes effort/attention/time/resources to go from A to B

1.1 Therefore we require a reason to move from A to B

We don’t like expending effort without a good reason to do so.

1.2 The greater the difference between A and B, the more effort we need to expend, and therefore the more reason we need to move.

So far? These are so obvious that they really do seem to be ‘too simple’, yet it’s surprising how many organizations implement Change and operate under the belief that people can Change ‘effortlessly’ or that they require no reason to Change.

2.0 Involvement and Autonomy increases our willingness to Change.

The more control we have during a Change, the more we’re willing to invest
the effort to achieve the desired result. Eg. We do acquire new skills, get
married, have kids, move house, learn new languages.

3.0 Dictated Change descreases both Involvement and Autonomy.

Now we’re getting somewhere. I’ve performed a small survey in more than 40
countries – asking people to describe a failed Change and what they think was
the #1 reason for that failure. Consistently they respond, “dictated change.”

4.0 Feedback strengthens Sustainability.

If the effort we’re making to Change isn’t resulting in something positive?
Why should we continue expending the effort? The longer the Change, the more
effort we must invest to arrive at the goal, the more important feedback becomes
if our goal is to keep moving forward.

5.0 Clarity of goals decreases the perceived risk of Change.

When we come to an intersection and don’t know for certain which path to take,
it’s stressful to choose a path at random. The more we know about where
the Change is supposed to take us, the more we’re likely to keep moving. In
most organizations if you ask people, “ Why they are ‘re-organizing’?”, most
of them have no clue. Is it any wonder that most reorganizations are abject failures?

6.0 Planning reduces obstacles, efforts and risk.

Changing from A to B is always ‘difficult’, but we do seem to go out of our way to
make it even more difficult. Planning can start small – “We know it will require
effort to move from A to B – how can we reduce the amount of effort?” Training?
Education? Demonstrations? Lessons learned from others who have already
travelled this path?

7.0 Using ‘Force’ to move people from A to B – introduces long lasting complications.

Force is a double edged blade. When we contradict someone, they push back
and we have unintentionally increased resistance (see 2.0 and 3.0 above). If
we use a lot of force? “Change or lose your Job” – then resistance to the
Change will cease in the short term, but resurface once the threat loses
meaning

8.0 Ingroup ideas trump Outgroup ideas.

The ‘not invented here’ objection isn’t a trivial response to Change, it’s a core
concept if we want to bring about large scale, dramatic Change. We are all
more willing to embrace an idea if it’s our personal idea. We’re also more
inclined to embrace an idea if it’s from someone in our community, and far less
likely to embrace an idea from some smart alec, know it all, outsider.

Change is complicated – but at the heart of the complexity are some simple concepts. If we understand what they are, we might be able to work our way towards reducing the complexity and reaping benefits similar to what hospitals are receiving in the most complicated of processes – brain surgery.

About the Author

Peter de Jager

Peter de Jager is a keynote speaker/writer/consultant on the issues relating to the issue of managing change of all shapes and sizes in all types of organizations. He has published hundreds of articles on topics ranging from Problem Solving, Creativity and Change to the impact of technology on areas such as privacy, security and business. His articles have appeared in The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Futurist and Scientific American.

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