So much has been written about 'change' that surely by now it should be getting easier. Yet it remains as stubbornly challenging as ever. Despite all those 'change programs' over 70% of company mergers still fail to realize their expected value. Are we missing something obvious here?
Right now I am living a change. This Sunday I am going to the airport in a cab with my family, we are getting on a plane to Dallas, Texas....and we are not coming back. After 25 years of living in Madrid, Spain.
Now let's be clear. We have signed up willingly for this change, we are excited and looking forward. It’s all been our choice. But here's the interesting thing - we find we are also nervous, restless, distracted and slightly scared.
Our children will join new schools, meet new people and create new friendships. My son's birthday is in a month from now and he'll celebrate it with people that today he's never met. I need to take my Texas driving test, after 34 years behind the wheel. Normal activities like shopping and watching TV will be different and slightly unsettling at first. We have to create our new normal.
We have made a choice to embrace this change, but nevertheless the uncertainty and unfamiliarity of the future makes us uncomfortable. It will take us time to settle, perhaps more time than we expect.
Humans just don't enjoy change, regardless of how sensible or thought-through the reasons for doing it. Yes, it's exciting and challenging - but it's also hard and we long for what we've left behind, until we start to adapt truly, and begin to enjoy our new life. We need to be patient.
Companies embarking on projects that change the way employees work, or who they work with, or under which brand they work, also need to be patient. More patient than they expect, or probably want, to be.
The reasons for the new structure, or the new strategic direction, are no doubt excellent on paper. Technically and operationally the new approach makes perfect sense. So we just explain all that good stuff to the people affected and they’ll be fine, right?
Well, right up to a point. Even if the employees accept and embrace the new plan, it may take them significant time to learn to live with it. This isn't being difficult, it's just human nature. They are people.
If the company supports them, listens, and gives them the time to adjust everything can, and probably will, work. If the company pushes too hard and loses patience, the change detractors will find fertile soil to sow the seeds of discontent, even among the most loyal and positive-minded employees.
Companies constantly underestimate how much time people need to adjust. Effectively managing people through a major change remains a great challenge. Logical, technical or practical approaches are often frustratingly ineffective in achieving a happy and effective workforce in the desired timetable. People just need their time to adjust.
If right now you are leading change, planning change or managing change … keep in mind what it’s like for the people living that change every day. How are they feeling?