Change is all around us: we change service providers, change managers, change employees, we even sometimes change our company’s name. Proverbs talk about it (“The more things change…”), and the 80s band Expose points out that people and seasons do it too. So with all our experience, why do so many people get anxious over change?

Here are some of my favorite rationales that keep us from embracing and driving change, and some mitigators:

  • “The law of averages says my current path will lead to success, eventually. “ When I was 22 and first went into a casino, I saw an old man in a well-worn coat moving up and down a line of slot machines. He kept muttering to himself “one more time, this one’s it.” As the afternoon wore on his look of desperation grew, yet he continued to push quarter after quarter in hoping to recoup his losses. It is incredibly hard to look in the mirror, admit defeat, and move on. Yet those who can walk away from sunk costs can avoid throwing good money after bad. The Cubs will eventually win a World Series, but is it wise to keep putting money on them to do so?
  • “I have the strategic plan (on paper), but I need to deal with today’s problems.” When creating a business plan, it’s fairly easy to write a formula and put all the pieces on paper, including an ambitious goal. How many leaders fall astray after that business plan is put in? Stuck in the mire of operating a business, it’s all too easy to lose track of the key overall goals. Make sure the big picture is part of your daily review and it will be harder to bury it.
  • “We’re going pedal-to-the-metal until we hit our target.” An old sales manager of mine used to push our sales team to log massive activity—any activity—in order to hit our quotas. He drove improved movement, but he did not drive improvement in sales production or the quality of that production. No matter how hard your managers drive your staff, it is critical that everyone be focused toward the same organizational goals, whether it be volume, units, total revenue, or profitability.
  • “I tried to change things, but they didn’t take hold.” There can be many reasons why change fails. Communication may not have brought in the key stakeholders, the strategy may not have taken consideration enough variables, or the change may have just been a poor idea. Whatever the reason, you need to figure out why the drive failed so the next campaign has a better chance. Blame is counterproductive: insecure people take bad risks, and secure risk takers are more likely to commit themselves completely.
  • “That’s a big change, so we need to form a committee to look at it.” Rush said it best in the song Free Will: “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.” In the absence of a clear decision, even normally decisive leaders can choose to stay the course of folly rather than gamble on an imperfectly substantiated risk. Sending to committee may provide insight, but is also likely to produce no greater detail. Measure risks carefully, but be prepared at all times to make a decision.

What have you seen that inhibits change, and how can we workaround it?

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