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Why do companies resist change?

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Tuesday, August 02, 2011


Question: Why do we need to change ____? Answer: I don’t know. It’s the way we’ve always done things.

Boy, do I dislike that answer. And it’s one that I keep hearing in the marketplace. You know how the old adage goes: “Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke.” I, for one, think it is a slight cop-out. In my industry (automobiles), I get this answer weekly, if not daily. And if my company isn’t constantly looking for areas to tweak or change, then we are losing money as well as opportunities. Let me give you some classic examples.

Question: Why are we still advertising in that newspaper? Answer: I don’t know. You have to advertise there, I guess, because we’ve always done it that way.

This irks me every week when I see our full-page ad run in the back pages of the local section of the newspaper. Do people even read the newspaper anymore? I don’t — at least not the print paper. I have an app for that. So just because we’ve “always advertised there” doesn’t mean we can’t make a change and get more creative. Maybe it’s time for a change.

Or how about this one?

Question: Why is he still working here? Answer: Well he’s been here for so long, as long as I’ve worked here. So I guess we have to keep him around, right?

Now I’m not saying there isn’t value in long-term employees, because there is. Trust me — Bud has worked at my dealership for over 47 years. But what happens if a certain employee hasn’t been productive in years? Do we keep them around just because we feel like we have to?

What I’m getting at here is much bigger and potentially very costly. I’m talking about resistance to change. We are in the middle of the fastest-changing business climate ever seen. More and more companies are doing on-line advertising exclusively, are texting instead of calling, and are connecting with their customers through twitter rather than print mailers. These are all great things. Companies that do these sorts of things are companies who are adapting to the current technology and business culture. But what about the companies that refuse to make a change in order to better meet the needs and wants of their consumers? What are the reasons we resist change? Let’s take a look at a few.

I recently read a study by A.J. Schuler, a doctor of physiology, and I found that there are some key reasons why our employees may resist change. The first is that people may feel connected with others who are associated with “the old way.” A great way to overcome this objection is to affirm their good work that got you to where you are right now and let them know that their efforts (and those they look up to) are not going overlooked. We need to let them know that whatever changes we make will only help to improve the working culture and success of the company.

Another reason for resisting change is that some people may believe that the proposed ideas for change are simply bad ideas. We as managers will battle that response for the rest of our lives. Truth be told, not all of our ideas are great ones. However, we need to let our employees know that complacency is a killer, and that sometimes all we need is a simple idea, spark or a small tweak to really push the needle in a positive direction.

My favorite reason for resistance is that sometimes the risk to change is seen as greater than the risk of standing still. Classic. Schuler responds to this by saying:

“Making a change requires a kind of leap of faith: you decide to move in the direction of the unknown on the promise that something will be better for you. But you have no proof (yet).

Taking that leap of faith is risky, and people will only take active steps toward the unknown if they genuinely believe — and perhaps more importantly, feel — that the risks of standing still are greater than those of moving forward in a new direction. Making a change is all about managing risk.

If you are making the case for change, be sure to set out in stark, truthful terms why you believe the risk situation favors change. Use numbers whenever you can, because we in the West pay attention to numbers. At the very least, they get our attention, and then when the rational mind is engaged, the emotional mind (which is typically most decisive) can begin to grapple with the prospect of change.

The power of the human fight-or-flight response can be activated to fight for change, but that begins with the perception of risk.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. Change begins with the perception of risk, and we, as managers need to be the risk-takers and lead the charge.

Schuler has some great points. We are, in most cases, a form of a risk manager. We are in charge of challenging people, motivating people and cultivating a workplace that embraces change and risks. In essence, we are managers of excitement.

As Apple founder Steve Jobs says, “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” And we are leaders, aren’t we? So I throw the challenge out to you: What can you do to move the needle in your company? Do you need to make some changes, and are you willing to take some risks? After all, that’s what makes life interesting, isn’t it?

Alex Casebeer is on the Executive Management Team at Capitol Auto Group in Salem. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or twitter.com/alexcasebeer.



Bob Myers
0 #1 Bob Myers 2011-08-02 16:54:29
Very timely and spot on article with the pace of business being driven at warp speed by technology. Really enjoyed the article. I will be sharing it with our employeess.
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Bob Lieberman
0 #2 All about loyaltyBob Lieberman 2011-08-03 07:23:00
At the end of Ron Heifetz' book The Practice of Adaptive Leadership, there's a chapter on loyalty. The idea is that we frequently resist change at work out of loyalty: to a promise we made ourselves; to family, friends, colleagues; to the person who hired us; to ancestors (parents, influential teachers, etc) to whom we've made promises or whom we admire. Change requires being disloyal to something or someone. Very powerful.
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Tom Dalton
0 #3 DirectorTom Dalton 2011-08-03 13:21:09
I wish there were more business owners/managers with this mindset. Complacency is truely an overlooked adversary of business.
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0 #4 "HOPE AND CHANGE!"Musharraf 2011-08-04 14:28:06
Follow this wise man's advice, and you could actually get away with using the above phrase as your mantra!
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Aaron Trueblood
0 #5 -Aaron Trueblood 2011-08-04 20:24:25
Strong provocative artice, change is not only inevitable but necessary. Change can be unpredictable, but in it's unpredictabilit y can serve as a catalyst for positive growth and creativity.
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Michael Vaughn
0 #6 First, Head in the Right Direction...Michael Vaughn 2011-08-06 10:10:10
Well, I don’t know how “provocative” this article is, as these ideas have been around since the start of Capitalism, but Casebeer does make an sufficient argument why leaders shouldn’t sit on their haunches watching their businesses and profits decline. In today’s business climate, it is imperative that businesses are able to adapt to new technologies – and fast – lest be gobbled by the competition.

Changing to new technologies in order to survive is much different from innovation (i.e. horse and buggy to automobile, radio to television, telephone to internet, etc.). Perhaps, with a little productive thinking, his company can be the first dealership to offer tomorrows technologies today.

What I would like to see from our business leaders, large to small businesses alike, is the proper hiring and training of their employees; creating a culture of caring for customers, both external and internal (WOW factor included); an ethical mindset that addresses both profit and fairness; and, delivering products that meet societies needs and wants. Sounds old-school, but this is what most businesses, IMO, lack today. Maybe Casebeer’s company can latch onto that instead of pulling print ads.

Remember: Leadership is a powerful tool – use it wisely.
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