Is Change Really That Difficult?



Because we are fearful.

Fearful of making the wrong bet. Fearful of ambiguity. Fearful of looking stupid in front of our colleagues and staff. Fearful of failure and all that comes with it.

A new financial year is upon us and we know we have to make changes to our lives, our businesses, our careers. We know that we can’t stand still and that change is crucial to our growth. Yet we put things off, we hesitate, we procrastinate. Another year goes by and we haven’t done what we need to and we are still talking about the same things. We have the same excuses – we don’t have enough time or money. We don’t know who to turn to. We doubt ourselves. We do nothing.

According to a study by the Harvard Business Review, 85% of executives agree that fear holds back innovation efforts “often or always”. So, what can we do to overcome our fears and get on with the changes we need to make?

Learn to love ambiguity

Most of us have a cognitive bias to seek clarity and avoid uncertainty. However, when driving change, the most “profound” changes are not the most obvious ones, or those that have a clear benefit or quick payback. A recent implementation of an ERP system for a client of mine did not help with reducing the month-end cycle time (which was a key indicator of success). However, it has increased collaboration between Finance staff and Sales/Ordering staff as they now have to work together on issues, and invoice and ordering accuracy has increased 60%.

Similarly, another organisation, after we implemented a new legal/contract system, did not increase the turnaround time of contracts as they had hoped initially. Yet the new system empowered the legal and sales staff to set up a motivated, cross-functional team to keep improving the process to realise the benefit in other ways.

Not everything will be clear when making change, but this does not give you an excuse not to start!

Learn to love your mistakes

Peter Senge, one of the doyens of what is now known as change management, is famous for comments such as “try lots of different things and see what works”. His approach to change flew in the face of the conventional, top-down, CEO enforced, business case enabled, highly planned, “my way or the highway” method of change. The idea of trying many things, many of which will fail, can be difficult to deal with. However, failure is a necessary part of success – even look at very famous chefs such as Gordon Ramsey and Jamie Oliver – both of whom have had major failures in their restaurants and food empires. It is widely known in restaurant circles that one in four have a chance of success. Likewise, an often-quoted figure in major change projects is that 70% fail to meet their objectives (which, from experience, I happen to believe is true).

We need to overcome our bias for thinking we have some magic formula within us for picking a project and then delivering it successfully in our businesses. If you impose very strict deadlines upon yourself or your team, you have to be prepared to miss those deadlines.

And then if you do fail, avoid the inevitable self-pitying downward spiral. Which brings me to my next point…

Learn to love yourself (and others) when things go wrong…

“If you re the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room” – Confucius.

When we do fail, why do we hate ourselves so? We are frauds, we have no right to be here. We are finished in business, in our careers. Why will anyone ever listen to us again?

We go through these emotions that sap our energy and bore the hell out of our friends and family that have to listen to us talk about ourselves. And what is worse, our behaviour leads us down the path of blaming others, usually quite unfairly, which can temporarily or permanently damage our business and personal relationships.

The answer is that we need to build up a culture within ourselves, and within our businesses that it is OK to fail. In fact, it is expected, and a necessary part of growing the business and growing as people and as a team. Reducing the fear of failure needs to be part of your core values, whether you are business of one, a business of hundreds, or anyone looking to grow their career in a meaningful way.

Psychological safety is a buzz phrase heard all too often these days, but it is true that we need to have a safe environment for us to learn to fail, learn to try and learn to succeed. Make this part of your plans this financial year (and forever!). Learn to love yourself and all that you do, whether it is success or failure, as one or the other is just around the corner.