The Change Equation
Business change is notoriously difficult, it’s oft said that it’s like ‘herding cats’. The trouble is that we don’t really know how to frame our thinking around change. Typically we start out with a problem, something isn’t quite working right, or some outside influence leads to a degree of dissatisfaction at the current status quo (see Why Do Business Transformation ). Typically we then might develop, or know intuitively, a view of what good might look like. This line of thinking might then lead us to an action plan for implementation. One of the key issues with implementing business change is that most leaders focus on the driving forces for change, and almost always forget, or at least drastically underestimate, the level of resistance there might be.
In their 1987 work, “Organizational transitions: managing complex change” Richard Beckhard & Reuben Hariss tackle this issue. They espouse a formula building on previous work by David Gleicher. The simple formula takes account of resistance to change in the business or organisation.
D is Dissatisfaction with the current situation (WHAT is the problem and WHY is this change necessary?);
V is Vision of what is possible in the future (clarity – WHERE are we going?);
F is First Steps that are achievable towards the vision (HOW do we get there?), and
R is Resistance to change.
So, essentially the combination of D, V, and F must be greater than R for change to be successful.
I think you’ll agree the formula is simple. Essentially the multiple of the driving forces, on the left, must outweigh the restraining forces, those on the right. What was new in this view of change implementation at the time was that it got those involved in organisational change to recognize and respect resistance.
It’s interesting to note that before this elegant theory leaders merely ignored resistance and drove change though in a top down fashion, by diktat. This centrist command and control approach often resulted in change that didn’t stick. It is fair to say that there is ALWAYS resistance, and it must be taken into account. The point is that as resistance is expected leaders must be understood and planned for.