There’s a myth that doesn’t want to die. It’s cornier than the end of Terminator 2 (no offence, Arnie 😉 ) – people keep saying that they hate change.
Go search for the most cling-to-the-present, grouch in the office and ask them what made them that way,
then sit back and listen! They’ll tell you the company stinks, that nobody sees their potential here, that the boss is awful and must go (immediately), that they would rather be somewhere else and they don’t have nearly as much vacation as their brother-in-law, who btw works for a better firm. They might go off-piste and complain that they were unlucky enough to have been sent useless employees or have been forced into marrying a terrible partner, but they will almost always round things off by telling you that the company has overlooked them and they could do their superiors’ jobs much better.
Put simply, they spend most of every day dreaming about being someone else, working somewhere else with other people in another life and can’t stand the fact that everything around them is staying the same.
…but they still claim change is a bad thing?
Ask any of your colleagues what their last 5 major purchases outside work were and I’m sure you’ll get at least one smart watch, one Alexa, one new phone and a fitness wearable as a reply. It seems like change is a big part of our private life.
So where does all this people hate change codswallop come from?
The answer is simple – people don’t fundamentally hate change, but most do hate being forced to change, especially when they do not see thebenefit of change: it makes them feel out of control, like they are losing to a stronger force.
Nature has taught us for thousands of years to be very, very wary when things get out of control. If the ground shakes, run. If something pushes, push back. If it’s bigger than you, stop pushing and go hide, so it’s perfect human nature to start resisting when things get a little uncomfortable.
So if it’s down to human nature, how come some of us are born fearless and others full of fear? Are there really two completely opposite kinds of human beings? Is it nature or nurture that helps runners through the famous marathon pain-barrier “the wall” and helps that kind of person bungy-jump whilst those born with fear stand at the side-lines in their comfort zone?
No of course not, but as ridiculous as my last paragraph reads when put in words, we do often seem to act as if all this were all true.
It seems that society is perpetually brain-washing us into thinking we cannot, whilst others can.
In my early years as a consultant, I used to ask clients to read Who Moved My Cheese – the classic about motivating change at work. These days, we are working with some of the most cutting-edge, digitally innovative companies in the World, and guess what? The group dynamics are often exactly the same.
Back then and without exception, about 50% of the group complained this short American paperback was drivel, with no useful content at all.
They claimed the messages about accepting change were obvious, whilst the secondhalf of the group told us how the book had changed their life – forever.
This second half of the group often still lived in the town they grew up in and went to the same holiday resort year after year.
On the surface, this second half of the group looked like they had been avoiding change their whole life long, but that’s just a superficial, first impression. Strangely, this second half of the group were also the ones who proudly drove a (nearly) new car, wore the freshest clothes and had the nicest phones,
The “first 50%” (who loved change) on the other hand often wore old jeans and used a laptop with an outdated OS.
Delving deeper – that second half of the group with the new cars often drove their 5th Golf in a row and had been buying the same brand of jeans, in the same colour since high school.
Of course, I’m polarizing for clarity’s sake, but the reason was that the “clean-jeans / Golf driver” types loved incremental change, because they seek perfection, whilst the “first 50%” of the group thrived on destructive change, innovation and were most comfortable when they were well outside the comfort zone, if you see what I mean. But if you ask one of the “first 50%” to polish something that’s already pretty good, you’ll soon find out just how change-resistent they can be!
If I have offended any Golf drivers with that last paragraph, I’m sorry, but please don’t let emotions get in the way of the core message, before you close up and stop reading.
The bottom line is – if the benefits of change are clear, whilst the risks can be managed, each and all of these people will race to implement that change, regardless how big it is.
So if you struggle to get people to embrace change in the workplace, don’t fall for the “people hate change” trap.
Start listening to them, I mean really listening to them, what they speak about, understand their core values and ask them questions about what they like and dislike about their job and then (and only then) start a dialogue about how things could get better.
After years of brain-washing that people hate change, it might take time for them to open-up and trust your good intentions, but if you have listened well, and are really not a threat to them, you will surely soon hit a nerve and the dynamic will change. Don’t tell them what change must happen, ask them for suggestions, ask them what they would do if this happened outside the workplace and you will be surprised how well aligned you are.
Before you know it, the change you so desire will be a common goal for a group of people who can’t wait to achieve it!