Change is Hard.  Five Steps to Make Change Happen.

Being able to cause a group of people to affect change is a critical quality of a leader. In fact, we could argue, it’s the essential quality of a leader.

Human beings generally resist change. In a way it’s completely rationaly: change will make us work to adapt to new patterns of behavior.  We will have to pay attention, learn new skills and approaches, and practice the new environment.   And our lives may get worse!   We don’t know for sure, but we do know that people tend towards “bad” interpretations of events and themselves much more than “good” ones.

From our perspective, it is evolutionarily adaptive for bad to be stronger than good. We believe that throughout our evolutionary history, organisms that were better attuned to bad things would have been more likely to survive threats and, consequently, would have increased probability of passing along their genes. (p. 325)

 — See links above.

So how do we start to cause a group of people to affect change?   We will go into each of these in more depth this week.


1.  Show the Need for Change, don’t Explain It.

Resistance is change is often more emotional than rational.  You may explain carefully to your team that, for example, “the product is too slow”, or “we are losing our customers’ confidence” or “the competition is getting more intense”.   You may even show numbers – in fact, if your team is an engineering team, you must show numbers.

None of your rational explanation will have the force of a customer visit with the customer saying “I’m thinking of dropping your product”.   Or a user testing video of a customer trying to use your grindingly slow product.

These experiences are visceral.  They will give emotional reasons to begin the change.


2.  Be Audacious, Be Specific

Saying “we really need to make the product faster” is unlikely to move a team to action.

Saying “we will make the product 10x faster in a quarter, and we will start by making it 2x faster this week” will get things moving.


3.  Show the first crack in the dam.

You don’t need to show that the entire change can happen – you only need to show that it can start.

After saying “we will make the product 2x faster this week”, show that a small change will make it 20% faster immediately.


4.  Tell the Story

A story is: “a person or people want something; there is a challenge; when they overcome it, there is a destination”

Simple!   But tell it.  “We will make the product 10x faster because that’s a good thing” is true, but it’s not a story.

“We are a creative group of killer engineers, and we will overcome the old codebase and the system limitations to massively change the trajectory of this product”.  That’s a story.

How to Make Change Happen 4: Find the Change Points

“Big problems are rarely solved with commensurately big solutions.  Instead, the are most often solved by a sequence of small solutions…”.   Switch.  Chip and Dan Heath.


5.  Talk it Up, Show the Change

As we’ve already noted, the “bad” gets more weight than the good, possibly for deeply rooted evolutionary reasons.

Talk it up.   At every small positive change, send an email, have a celebration, make a noise. 

We will post on each of these five steps in the next few days.  Stay tuned.


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