Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Resistance to Change: The empirical formula

The old joke is: 
How is arguing with an engineer like wrestling a pig in mud? 
After a few minutes you realize the pig likes it.
In order to facilitate change (what we consultants; internal or external) all hope to achieve, we must first come to terms with the fact that it is human nature to resist change. If we are selling organizational change (Who Moved My Cheese?), technology change, or process change (The Machine that changed the world) we must overcome the human urge to keep things the same.

A few years ago my good friend Bob Murdy and I first wrote down this formula (or something like it). There are a few key factors we always liked to point out in this equation. First, the benefit to the company or the team or mankind has no place in this equation (directly). Some people could however assess a positive value for gain from helping their fellow man because they "feel good" to help others. That is a selfish motive (just think of all the people in the world who don't appreciate the helping hands we offer them (Aztecs, native Americans, and Australian aborigines come to mind).

Additionally, the pain might be no more than my own guilt that must be assuaged (i feel bad for being a materialistic pig, so I text some money to Haiti and I feel better.

With this equation, we see that it only takes one missing element in this equation to make the whole thing (resistance to change) go to INFINITY. (division of any number by 0 goes to infinity for the non-math types out there).

So why don't people accept change:

  • They feel no need to change
  • You gave them no personal benefit
  • You gave them no choice
  • It was not there idea