No Matter How Scary, Your Business Has to Change to Survive
At Simon Associates Management Consultants, we work with so many companies that resist change that we’ve been digging deeper into our own research, the work of Blue Ocean Strategists® W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, and the vast psychology and neuroscience literature on why humans really hate to change.
Part of the reason can be found in evolution. Though no strangers to change, we humans certainly haven’t rushed our adaptability. We evolved slowly over millions of years, gradually adapting to changes in our environment or to our genetic makeup.
And although we did it slowly, this adaptability is one of the main reasons we’re still here. As Darwin wrote, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”
So if we have been adapting to change since before we stood erect, why is it so hard today?
Is Change Really that Scary?
Yes! Regarding aversion to change and our comfort with the status quo, we are most happy when we feel three things:
1. We know what we know. We like it when our habits take over and help us get through the day, whether it’s tying our shoes or signing our name. Those scripts that we learned early in our personal growth stood us well in the past, so we now rely on them as we move forward through life. Why change?
2. We know where we stand with others. Humans are herd animals, and we gravitate to others who share similar values, beliefs, and attitudes. Remember, “Birds of a feather flock together.” This is both comfortable and comforting. We don’t have to work as hard to get our point across or choose a lunch place when those around us think like we do.
3. We feel no need to change. We know what has worked in the past, so why scrap that to adapt to something new and unfamiliar?
But remember, we all adopted television when it first came out, bought computers when they first came out, and embraced email, then texting, then Instagram, and so much more. Perhaps now it is time to change our organizations so they, too, can thrive in these fast-changing times.
We don’t want to be those Luddites who tried to burn down the new factories that were taking away their jobs.
The Times They Are A-Changin’ and So Must We
We all know the only constant is change. So amidst this constant change, how do we hold onto our companies, our customers (who are also changing), and ourselves? Here are some things to consider as you try to navigate these crazy, disruptive times.
Turn “Change is scary” into “Change is fun!” In many ways, perception is reality. For example, once you’ve formed a mental map of something in your head, you see the world as it conforms to that perceptual map. You only see what fits it. As Einstein said, we need to change what we are thinking if we are going to change what we are doing.
This is never easy, but the brain is very plastic. Your “mind map” can learn new things and see in new ways. You just have to help it.
A great way to start is by literally making “awful new stuff you have to embrace” into “great new stuff you love to use.” Once you make the undesirable desirable, your mind begins to see the possibilities rather than the risks. And voilà! Change has begun.
For it to stick, repetition is key. Think these three E’s: engagement, education, empowerment.
Change is easier when it’s in small wins — start with baby steps. In their new book Blue Ocean Shift: Beyond Competing, Kim and Mauborgne talk about the challenges companies face as they try to find “blue oceans” where they can create demand, find unmet needs, and open new market space.
But what does this really mean, as our clients always ask? In essence, their suggestion is to break down the complex into simple parts (“atomization”).
At SAMC, our own anthropological research leads in similar directions. A boss is literally changing employees’ performance on a life stage when he/she changes their jobs, their culture, and the ethos of the organization. They need time to try out the new and practice it.
To use a metaphor from theater, your people know the script and how to perform the familiar company play today.
Tomorrow, you hand them a new script for a different play. They need to start acting out the new without wiping out the old — not just yet. Rehearsal time and number of previews before going “live” are up to you, but in our experience, more is better.
With liberal amounts of mentoring, coaching, and teamwork, you’ll be amazed at how well your people will jump on the chance to act their new roles, when initially change seemed so terrifying.
Go exploring! Whenever we’re taking clients through a change process, we take them out exploring to better “see, feel, and think” about their customers, prospects, new markets, and themselves before they even begin to “do” anything. We encourage them to be amateur anthropologists, to suspend their assumptions and prior certainties.
This is the time for them to rethink the past and truly embrace the possibilities of the future (make those undesirables desirable). Yet we also have them appreciate the great people and work that got them to where they are now. It is just a time to see things with fresh eyes. And it works!
No Turning Back
Darwin was right. In these rapidly changing times, only the most adaptive are going to thrive. So it is up to you to help your team see change as a “big new adventure” rather than a scary black hole.
You must help them gain the skills and confidence to thrive, and in so doing, you’ll share the journey. Enjoy!
Andi Simon, author of On the Brink: A Fresh Lens to Take Your Business to New Heights, is a corporate anthropologist and award-winning author (www.simonassociates.net). You can follow Andi on Twitter @AndiSamc.