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Embrace change

Posted on February 8, 2015

The long-held received wisdom is that people don’t like change. As Niccolo Machiavelli said in The Prince, "There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things." Countless CEOs have heard this and similar advice and shied away from changing the status quo.

Change makes people confused, angry and fearful. People want things to be the same as they’ve always been so that they don’t have to leave their comfort zone and deal with the uncertainty of the future. People put a lot of energy into resisting change and can cause havoc in the process. As John Galbraith said, "Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof."

The imperative to change, however, has never been so acute. John Kotter, the Change guru at Harvard Business School, believes that the rate of change is not going to slow down anytime soon. If anything, competition – and the need to change – in most industries will probably speed up even more in the next few decades.

Many companies that have been hugely successful in the past still seem to be relying on the old adage that 'if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.'

In today's competitive market place does this still hold true? If a company continues to give customers what they've always given them, for example, how long will they maintain their market share? Companies that rely on past experience could find that their past experience is their worst enemy. Or, as Eisenhower said, "Neither a wise man nor a brave man lies down on the tracks of history to wait for the train of the future to run over him."

Being ready to recognise and respond to forces that demand change is the key to success nowadays. Those forces could be a merger, the need for innovation, a drive to become a customer-centric organisation or, for example, the Emiratisation programme. The companies that handle change well will see this reflected in their share price – consider the difference in results between Microsoft and Google.

The really successful companies of the future will be the ones that no longer view change as a discrete event to be managed, but as a constant opportunity to evolve the business. Change readiness (the ability to continuously initiate and respond to change in ways that create advantage) is the new change management.

How can companies become less resistant to change? When you think about it, people are ready to accept change in their personal lives. Few people would resist the change to a new car or handbag or house. What makes the difference?

The difference lies in perceived value. When people estimate that the value of what they may gain by changing is greater than the value of what they currently have, resistance is likely to die away. And, if Senge is correct, people don’t resist change; they resist being changed. People are happy to change to a new house if they can choose it rather than have it chosen for them. Staff may not be quite so happy to accept a new process at work that has been imposed on them by management.

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