Two Kinds of Change ? – Why is change so difficult – part two

We as humans like to dissect things, to take things apart as a means of understanding them and or to fix them. When you do this with change in mind there are two kinds of change that appear.

The first and most obvious one is behaviour change where you change what you do and you get a different result. This change is tangible and measurable and obvious to the people around you as an evidence, so the result can be seen in the bottom line.

In organisations this change mostly comes in the form of a new type of work due to promotion, a restructure mostly to improve profits or a need for increased productivity (e.g.new technology).

We are mostly good at this kind of change although not always happy about it, we have through our education been trained to adapt and take on new things as a means of achieving a different result. In this kind of change there is no need for too many questions, a person gets to the understanding of what is required and adjusts his or her behaviour to execute the new tasks that make up the new work required.

The second kind of change is identity change and often shows up in organisations as culture change or soft skills development. This is more complex as the identity of the organisation is built mostly on subconscious drivers. These drivers (motives) come from a need or a desire for a particular outcome or in order to be in a ,particular way.

The challenge here is when you want to change the identity of an organisation, you are also asking the individual to change their identity. Mostly you are asking them to “be” in a different way so that “how” what they do can be different. When you do this you open up a can of worms  around why people do what they do.

You pull in to the work environment a questioning of motive that relates to a host of deeper, more mystical topics like life, god, human nature etc which are most often not really contracted as part of the day to day operations of a business.

These cultural nuances are the often unspoken expectations that are either part of the leadership need or expectations of societal and cultural norms. They are similar to the way a human develops a personality through responses to the environment or based on historical understandings of the way things “work”.

These cultures very quickly will help define to the individual the nature, ethics and nuances of each business which is just like a personality but a collective form of it.

So when undergoing change two things happen. In scenario one the behaviour type change dominates the change and the change is then mostly quicker and easier. It still is uncomfortable but its manageable.

In scenario two where the cultural change has emphasis, danger lurks and what might seem like a simple change process turns into an ongoing nightmare of complexity because when you are going to change who you are, the change becomes deeper and is more like a transformation than a simple ‘do it different to get a different result’.

So look at the change that works, its simple and clear, it has fewer questions and the emphasis is on doing differently. But every now and then an organisation and human beings need to stop and take a deeper look at their motives and the associated meaning, the why they do what they do.

This is the difficult change.  Time and money are required in order to make the necessary space for this change  to occur in the business, so this needs to be carefully considered. This change is the difficult one but definitely the most rewarding in the long run. 

KMPG is a company that should be considering the second kind of change right now.

Why is change so difficult?

Many people will tell you things about change that are true. Change is pain, be the change, change is a choice etc etc etc.  There are even bell curves that map your responses (denial, anger etc) as you undergo change. So in spite of all this why is change so difficult.

When you look at the habits of people today and compare them with a common change agenda you start to see a pattern.

  • We want performance / change is a performance blocker
  • We want to understand first then act  / change is risk and requires action before understanding
  • We want to change but you must see things our way (we are naturally programmed to react to a one-sided perspective) / change requires an open “both/and” perspective as a start
  • We think if we change our mind or feelings we change / but change is rooted in behaviour
  • Lets keep this positive / but change needs reality which is most often negative and painful

What we start to see is how functionally different change is to our normal way of life. These quite natural habits are rooted into our culture and our upbringing, and the way we function on a daily basis. So they are good and true. Just not when it comes to change. The processes and habits used to function in the world are the ones you need to let go of in order to change, that’s why it’s so hard. It can feel like self-betrayal at the deepest level. Sometimes you have to give up that which has served you so well to this point and that’s not really anything any sensible person would want to do.

So when I go into an organisation what I mostly get is yes we want to change but:

  • Don’t disrupt the performance
  • Help us understand what we must do (so we can think or feel we are in control, then have lots of meetings [and more meetings] about the change as a clever way of avoiding it)
  • Don’t ask us to be open to both sides (just make the change inside of our existing paradigms)
  • Don’t get too real here lets all keep it happy (anything painful or confrontational is not allowed)

These kind of requests that show a lack of real understanding of what it takes to change and helps entrench an anti-change sentiment.

So here is some good advice:

  • Stop trying to change everything all the time, its counter productive and destructive to regular business functioning (and often a desperate means to do the same thing differently which does not help at all)
  • Make sure the change is clearly defined, has a timeline and is measured regularly (behaviour /task mapped) as it proceeds and ends
  • Make sure you have a support structure for the people going through the change, its where your change will happen (or not)