Leading Change: Understanding & Comfort are Not the Same Thing

I wish I had a dollar for every time I have heard someone say, “People hate change.” I actually believe most people think change is okay. What they hate is ambiguity and uncertainty. They want to know “What’s in it for me?”

I do not believe that people ask this question to be selfish, so much as they want to reduce the unknowns that affect them. They are actually willing to give change the benefit of the doubt, as long as it means something positive for them.

  • A new and better job
  • More money
  • A saner boss
  • An easier commute
  • Additional time to spend with their family and friends
  • More excitement and fun at work.

For example, when things go on sale shoppers don’t complain: “Who changed the prices? I was just getting used to the old, higher ones. I hate change.” Instead, they see the lower prices as a personal invitation for them to buy.

That’s what’s “in it” for them.

They accept and welcome change, even inconvenience, when they can see how it benefits them. Yet, tell them you are going to change the prices but not when or whether they are going up or down and you’ll drive them crazy.

By now you are probably thinking, “If I can just help people see how a change benefits them, then this change management thing is not so tough.” Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. What if there isn’t something “in it” for them?

For most organizations in the midst of a change initiative, the connection between what’s in it for the individual and what’s in it for the organization is often murky at best, especially in the short term. And the path to clarifying this connection is anything but a straight line. Thus, effective change leadership is more about achieving clarity and selling the need for and the inevitability of change than it is about making change desirable or attractive.

The best HR leaders help people understand, accept, and then ultimately embrace change. The least effective HR people spend their time trying to get everybody comfortable with change.

Understanding and comfort are not the same thing.

To me, the least relevant metric to assess change readiness is whether people like it. The most effective metric is whether people understand it well enough to execute.

Learn More

If you found this information valuable, check out my book, THREE: The Human Resources Emerging Executive, which you can preview at www.exexgroup.com/publications/three-book.

Be sure also to check out the FREE eBook Black Holes and White Spaces: Reimagining the Future of Work and HR with the CHREATE Project, published through the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and available for download on Amazon. It contains 26 essays from more than 70 chief HR officers and CHREATE Project volunteers and describes tools and frameworks for leaders inside and outside the HR profession.

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