Change Management – Is There Enough Dissatisfaction with the Status Quo?

Change Management – Is There Enough Dissatisfaction with the Status Quo?
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No Pain, No Gain
The exercise training adage advocating that there is no gain if there is no pain can be adapted to organizational change theory. We used to think that a compelling vision for change combined with a strong drive to achieve was enough to motivate and propel change in an organization. What we have learned is that an equally and sometimes more powerful driver is dissatisfaction associated with the avoidance of pain or dissatisfaction with the status quo.

As the Nobel Prize winner, Daniel Kahneman, discovered and outlined in his Prospect Theory, losses are about twice as painful as wins are sweet. In an organization, this translates to a situation where dissatisfaction (the potential negative aspects of staying the same) often carries more weight in people’s hearts and minds than any potential gains.

What Stands in the Way of Organizational Change
Organizational change is difficult because it challenges the more familiar status quo and looms threateningly over the unknown future. But when you can marry the pain to the gain, change becomes more compelling.  There are three main reasons organizations resist change:

  • Changing Habits is Not Easy
    It is simply easier for people to keep doing things the way they’ve always done them, especially if it’s been working so far. A kind of inertia sets in that, unless affected by some outside force, is hard to break.
  • Assuming Continuation of Current Trends
    So far, so good. Why contemplate disaster when everything is going along so well? It’s easier to believe that the future will replicate the past and present.
  • Being Satisfied
    It’s so easy to become complacent and lull yourself into thinking that it’s “good enough.” Why rock the boat? Haven’t you proven that things are working just fine?

2 Keys to Combat these Powerful Resistors to Change
There are two basic ways to combat these powerful resisters to change

  1. Define the Gain – A Successful Vision for Change
    Successful organizational change, both big and small, has to begin with a clear and compelling vision of the desired state to motivate and align those affected by the desired new ways.  For lasting organizational change, a critical mass of key stakeholders must be actively involved in both developing and operationalizing the shared vision for a better and more preferred future state.

    Companies that invest the time to truly shape a shared vision for change build deeper commitments, uncover resistance to change faster, and better tap into people’s aspirations.
  2. Define the Pain – Why Should People Be So Dissatisfied with the Current State?
    At the beginning of any organizational change, there needs to be a certain amount of shared and agreed-upon pain that pushes people to look for alternatives to the status quo. The perceived cost of not changing must be greater than the benefit of staying the same – especially by those most affected by the change,

    For people to think, behave, and act differently, they need to have enough dissatisfaction with the status quo to be motivated to change.  For an organizational change to take root, the majority of your stakeholders – especially the most influential ones – need to strongly wish something were better or different than it is today.

The Bottom Line
Most people favor decisions that maintain the current state of affairs.  They not only feel validated and reassured when they stick to the usual ways of thinking and acting, but they also tend to weigh potential losses more heavily than potential gains.  Leverage the pain-gain formula to increase dissatisfaction and paint a compelling picture of the better days to come.

To learn more about how to better manage organizational change, please download The 5 Ways to Assess Change Leadership – Backed by Science

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