The key to a successful change initiative continues to be reaching people’s hearts.
The world has changed a lot since 1979 – business has most definitely gone global, at every scale. Business has gone virtual, a word that in 1979 meant something completely different. But people’s anxieties, fears and dreams remain pretty much the same.
The essence of human nature has proved to stay fairly constant over the centuries – otherwise, why do we still watch Shakespeare and Greek drama? Our core seems to be challenged when we undergo change, the ground shifts under our feet and we have to change the way things are… because they are just not good enough. Even if the change is for the best, our habits might secretly, subconsciously and subtly, resist.
I have just finished reading a brilliant article, originally written in 1979 and re-printed in 2008 (Harvard Business Review Vol. 86 Issue. 7/8) by John P. Kotter and Leonard A. Schlesinger. I will take the liberty to quote the first paragraph here as, to be honest, I can’t really put it any better.
In 1973, The Conference Board asked 13 eminent authorities to speculate what significant management issues and problems would develop over the next 20 years. One of the strongest themes that runs through their subsequent reports is a concern for the ability of organizations to respond to environmental change. As one person wrote: “Reorganization is usually feared, because it means disturbance of the status quo, a threat to people’s vested interests in their jobs, and an upset to established ways of doing things.”
Changing involves rewiring our thought-patterns, changing our habits, modifying our routines. Some people enjoy the routine that work can bring. Change can bring about the loss of friendships or strong professional relationships; it can change our physical environment; it can undermine what we have already learned as we have to being a conscious learning journey.
But change can also help us grow, consolidate weak ties, unlock new potential and seal new relationships. The difficulty is in balancing the negative aspects of change, which appear usually in the short-term, with the benefits that the long-term process can bring.