Sunday, April 27, 2008

Change

In every organization (and at some point, in every life) there is a cry for change; people within the organization will have an overwhelming feeling that systems, structures, cultures, missions, purpose, or products must change to remain relevant in the world today. And, as this cry for change goes up, these same organizations will find that there an undeniable resistance to change within the organization that will confound the process.
Where does this resistance to change come from? And, why do we experience this polarity within the organizations we serve, and even within ourselves?
Richard Beckhard and Ruben Harris, in their book Organizational Transitions (now out of print), have boiled this phenomenon down, and created a little formula that helps us understand resistance to change:
Here is how this formula works:
  • LD - This is the level of dissatisfaction with the status quo. If you are very dissatisfied with how things are right now, you are motivated to change. However, if dissatisfaction is low, or even Zero, change will not be possible.
  • DC - This is the desirability of the proposed change or end state. If the end state is very desirable, then change is possible, however if a person cannot see the value in the new state of affairs, or the end state is undesirable, change will not be possible.
  • PV - This represents the ability of the person who is considering the change to hold the vision that change is possible. If the task of undertaking the change is possible, even if it is difficult, then change can occur. But if the task seems impossible, or out of the reach of the people who are involved in the change effort, change will not happen.
  • Xc - This part of the formula represents the cost of change. This cost can be in dollars, personal energy, self respect, any form that is of value to the organization or person involved in the change.
When we take the level of dissatisfaction times the desirability of the end state, times the vision of whether the task is possible or not, we get some sense of the importance of the change to the organization or person. These factors must be greater than (must out weigh) the perceived cost of the change before any change effort can successfully move forward.

Trying to apply real numbers to these variables is difficult at best. You will not be able to simply apply the formula and come up with an answer that tells you whether or not change can occur.

However, what you can do is evaluate each of the three factors on the left side of the equation. If you are experiencing resistance to change it is likely that the resistance is related to one of these three factors. Also, if any one of these factors is Zero - change is seen as a having no value - then the driving forces that would bring about change will always be less than the perceived cost of change.

If you can find a copy of Beckhard's book, look at page 98 for a description of this concept. (When I last checked, you could get a used copy of this book for $0.40 at Amazon.com.)