It’s not what you think.  It’s a framework for understanding the relationship between who you communicate with, the role they have, and the aspects of a project.  The RACI name comes from the roles that someone can have: responsible, accountable, consulted, or informed.  It’s typically a grid, with the columns as the people and the aspects of the projects as the rows.  The intersection contains a single letter that represents the role (or roles) the person has.

People

The columns of a RACI chart are the people that you’re interacting with.  Sometimes, this may be a specific person’s name, but in most of the cases, it’s likely that the columns will be labeled with a small group of people.  For instance, you might have a column named “engineers” and another named “marketing.”

Aspects

Projects of any scope and scale are not one single thing to be done.  There are always steps in the process or parts of the deliverable that must be done.  The aspects that form the rows of a RACI chart are a meaningful way to break the overall project into smaller parts.  While in many cases, the way that you break down the RACI chart will match the work breakdown structure of the project, it may be that the way you need to think about responsibility, accountability, consultation, and informing does not directly match the work breakdown structure.

The Intersection

What’s powerful about the RACI chart is the capacity to communicate the role of the person or group for an aspect of the project.  Let me briefly summarize each of the roles – slightly out of order from the acronym to make it more understandable.  They are:

  • Accountable – This is the person who will ultimately be held accountable for whether the aspect of the project is successful or not. Said differently, if this goes spectacularly wrong, who is at risk of being fired or demoted?  Generally, this role can only be used once for a row, and it’s always assigned to a person and not a group.
  • Responsible – The responsible person or group are the ones doing the work. They may or may not be held accountable, but someone must do the work, so they’re identified as responsible.  There are generally very few responsible parties for a given aspect.  As with accountability, a single responsible party is ideal.
  • Consulted – The consulted group are neither accountable nor responsible but are important to the decision-making process. Their input is needed even if they don’t have the final say.  It’s common to have several people consulted on an aspect.
  • Informed – Those who are informed are being made aware of progress on an aspect of the project, but they are not being given the opportunity to directly provide input on the item. Even more people are typically informed but not consulted.
  • None – If the intersection between person and aspect is left blank, then there is no communication about the item to the person or group for that aspect of the project. Many of the intersections between people will remain blank.

The Clarity

RACI charts represent the understanding of the project team about everyone’s role.  It helps those who are being informed to realize that they’re not going to be consulted for input on an aspect.  This can help reduce misunderstandings that would typically occur later in the project and create hurt feelings.

While it may be frustrating to address the concerns about who should be accountable, responsible, consulted, and informed up front, the down-stream savings are well worth the effort.

The Evolution

RACI documents tend to be evolving documents in any project – including change projects.  They start with what is known, and additional detail is added as new stakeholders are added to the people columns and new aspects are added to the rows.

A fundamental question about the way to approach change in an organization is to decide whether you’re going to change the person themselves or whether you’re going to change the environment the person finds themselves in.  While people tend to take up arms and defend their position, it may turn out that the answer lies in the murky ground between these two extremes.

Changing Other People

In self-help and recovery circles, trying to change or “fix” other people is a huge red flag.  The idea is that if you can’t cope with life with others being who they are, then it’s probably you, rather than them, who must be wrong.  However, this obscures a very accurate message that the only person you can change is yourself.  There are jokes about changing others such as, “How many counselors does it take to change a lightbulb?”  The answer is “One, but the lightbulb really has to want to change.”

People come to counselors, therapists, and psychologists because they want to change – or at least they want to feign desire to change to support someone else’s hopes, whether that be a family, a friend, a fiancé, or a judge.  However, the rate of personal change, even with professional assistance, is astonishingly low.  (See The Heart and Soul of Change, Science and Pseudoscience in Clinical Psychology, and Change or Die for background and stories.)  The truth is personal change is difficult and trying to change others is harder.

However, the kinds of fundamental changes that people are trying to make, with help and on their own, aren’t exactly the kinds of behavior changes we’re looking for in an organization.  Rarely are their deep-seated childhood issues about whether to use a fax machine or email.  So, while changing other people can be very difficult, some changes are easier.

In the middle are the kinds of changes that most organizational change efforts are targeting.  Abstract concepts like concern for the organization and engagement are the sorts of things that change efforts typically seek, but because these are amorphous concepts that have no real specific behaviors, they’re often difficult to accomplish directly.

While it’s true that an organization can only change by individuals changing their behaviors, it’s also true that often we’re not sure what behaviors we’d want people to change to accomplish the organizational change.

Changing the System

Changing the system is difficult but for different reasons.  The rise of agile methodologies has elevated the awareness that you can’t plan for everything.  (See Agile Change Management for more on agile.)  Eisenhower said that “no plan survives contact with the enemy.”  Plans can never be good enough.  Despite that, we still approach changing the results by changing the system.

There are reasons to consider the system impacts of change, including the kinds of results you see as the system iterates.  (See Model: Systems Thinking for more.)  However, it’s equally frightening to recognize that organizational changes are often wicked problems.  (See Model: Wicked Problems for more.) Systemic changes often cause unintended consequences that can’t be foreseen.  (See Diffusion of Innovations for more.)

However, we’ve learned that sometimes changing the system can powerfully change the individual.  (See The Behavior Function.)  We can change the expectations and metrics of the system, and this can change the way that people behave and therefore the results the organization sees.  (See The Tyranny of Metrics for more on the impacts of metrics.)

Not Either but Both

The best chances for change success are neither to focus exclusively on the person nor exclusively on the system.  By investing in improving the functioning of individuals, you create more organizational resilience.  (See Emotional Intelligence, Resilient, and Grit for the impact of personal growth on organizational resilience.)  However, because individuals are so notoriously difficult to change, it’s necessary to leverage systemic levers to encourage – rather than discourage – the right behaviors.

The world of change management owes a lot to Kurt Lewin.  He’s responsible for the idea of change as three steps: unfreezing, change and transition, and refreezing.  More importantly, his research into the motivation of individuals left us with topological maps and force fields that led to an elementary understanding of human behavior.

Topological Maps and Force Fields

Lewin was particularly invested in the application of mathematical and “hard science” techniques to the emerging field of psychology.  He recognized that some forces increased with closer proximity and that resistance may not be a lack of motivation towards the goal but a set of countervailing forces pushing back against the goal.  In organizational change, we see this all the time as the organization resists the change and attempts to resume the status quo.

In the exploration of how people are motivated, Lewin arrived at a simple – despite being opaque – function to describe human behavior.

Behavior = f(Person, Environment)

The simple formula relates that behavior is a function of both the person and the environment (including the situation) they’re in.  While fundamental attribution error causes us to believe that everything should be assigned to the character of a person, Lewin invites us to look at the environment.  (See Thinking, Fast and Slow for more about fundamental attribution error.)  We know from subsequent research that strikingly little is hardwired into our genetics.  (See No Two Alike for more.)

While there’s no elaboration on how these two variables interact, the simple awareness of the fundamental truth that behavior can be shaped by the environment and simultaneously resisted by a strong will creates the opportunity to see that you can encourage behaviors, thereby making them more prevalent.

Nudges

We think that we’re the masters of our world and that we make our choices free of influence.  From the results of movie theatres that used subliminal messaging to encourage popcorn sales to the marketers in supermarkets getting us to buy the higher-margin items and the employers who encourage healthier eating patterns by changing the kinds of snacks they provide, we’re silently being shaped into behaviors that others want us to make.  (See Influence and Nudge for examples of how others are shaping our behavior.)

It’s as if they’re speaking directly to something below our consciousness.

Elephant, Rider, and Path

Jonathan Haidt came up with a basic model of how our reason and rationale is like the rider sitting on top of an emotional elephant.  If the rider is paying attention and the elephant isn’t particularly motivated, all is well.  However, when the rider loses focus or the elephant becomes particularly triggered, the elephant is clearly in control.  If neither the rider nor the elephant is focusing, then they’ll lumber along the familiar path.  (See The Happiness Hypothesis and Switch for more on the model.)

Daniel Kahneman expresses it slightly differently in Thinking, Fast and Slow as System 1 – the automatic responses – and System 2 – or rational thought.  He says that System 1 can lie to (or mislead) System 2 and thereby skew the results.  So, while your rational rider thinks it’s making reasonable decisions, it could be that System 1 is deceiving your rationale to get to the decision that it wants.

Together

The behavior of an individual is therefore sometimes a result of their conscious control – the person part of the equation.  Behavior is sometimes, therefore, person-led.  Conversely, there are many times when behavior is the result of the easiest path put before the elephant and rider, and therefore the environment is the primary driver of behavior.

Ultimately, behavior doesn’t have one cause but two – and they relate to one another in unknown ways.

Like any movement that becomes popular, agile has become more buzzword and less meaning than was originally intended.  When 17 software developers met in Utah, they didn’t set out to change the world of software development or change how projects are managed.  They came together to share a common passion for making software development more successful, because the industry had a dismal record of failures – much like change management today.  (See Why the 70% Failure Rate of Change Projects Is Probably Right.)  The heart of a desire for successful projects can be applied to any project – including change projects.

More This, Less That

The Agile Manifesto lays out what the group believed in a set of four principles in the form of conflicts:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

They’re careful to indicate that both are valuable, but the things on the left are more valuable.  Change managers will recognize that all but the second are general statements that apply to change projects as well as software development projects.

Boiling down the statements to an even more basic level, there are two keys to take away.  First, people are important, and they can’t be removed from the process.  Second, we can’t plan for every contingency; we must react to change.

Heuristic, Chaotic, and Wicked

We now live in a world where we’re not following the single formula that leads to the right result.  Instead, we’re working with a set of heuristic processes that lead us to the right location.  Richard Florida called for The Rise of the Creative Class back in 2001 when he recognized the work that was being done was not following a single process.  Before that, in 1970, Alvin Toffler wrote the book, Future Shock, where he coined the term “future shock” to mean a degree of change that people couldn’t cope with.  About the same time, Horst Riddle and his colleagues started speaking and writing about wicked problems and the nature of unsolvable problems.  (See Wicked Problems for more.)

By all accounts, we’ve entered a world where we simply cannot expect that we can plan for all the situations we find ourselves in.  Instead of rigid planning, we find the need to have more agility and resilience in our planning progress, and that means continuously readjusting the course of our projects.

Iterative

While the original “waterfall” software development lifecycle was designed to be iterative, few people did it that way.  They instead tried to plan everything and get the whole software developed in one project cycle.  Agile turned this on its head by removing the big, upfront planning cycle and instead replacing it with a vision of the end target and enough planning to take the initial steps towards that goal.  After each cycle, a review is preformed to capture learning and readjust the trajectory so that the end target stays in focus.

In an iterative model, the goal is to deliver as much to the organization as quickly as possible.  It has developers working on the things that add the most value to the organization first, so even if the project is cancelled early, there’s a working solution that delivers value.

Applying Agile Methods to Change

Agile can be directly applied to change projects by simply mapping out the end target and then only enough of how to get there that can be accomplished in a few weeks.  At the end of that time, the process comes together to evaluate what was learned and what the next steps might be.

Criticisms

Agile isn’t without critics.  They claim that the process is more wasteful than a waterfall project, citing the countless missteps that happen in the process.  These criticisms are true – but they’re weighed against the additional planning work that may or may not have identified the problem and all the downstream effects.  The net-net for most organizations is that agile approaches to software development – or change – mitigate their risk and don’t cost substantially more than a traditional project management approach.  Most organizations decide that the additional risk reduction is worth the cost.

It may not seem like there are many choices when you’re a prisoner, so there shouldn’t be much to learn about change, but there’s more to prison psychology than meets the eye.  What we know about how easily things devolve started in a basement on the Stanford campus in August of 1971.

Power Corrupts

It was a simulation experiment to see what happens when there’s a perception of power.  It was set up by Phillip Zimbardo, and it involved a group of participants randomly split into prisoners and jailers.  The simulation was due to run for two weeks but was aborted after there were concerns for the psychological and physical safety of the participants.

In short, the experiment had jailers becoming progressively more aggressive and prisoners becoming progressively more subversive.  Christina Maslach, Zimbardo’s then-girlfriend and now-wife, persuaded Zimbardo to halt the experiment due to these concerns.  The conclusion that has been taken from the experiment is that power, left uncontrolled, will cause people to behave inhumanely to other humans.  Despite the criticisms of the experiment, there’s still widespread belief that power corrupts.  (See The Lucifer Effect for more on the experiment.)

Inhumane

It was the research of Albert Bandura that may have shone light on the root cause for the Stanford Prison Experiment (SPE), which may be our ability to disengage our morals.  Bandura’s book, Moral Disengagement, is a guidebook for how to create situations where good people will violate their moral code.  From majorities and authorities to breaking tasks apart, it explains how some things confuse our moral compass and why we should design solutions to avoid these things.  (See the post, The Necessity of Neurology, for more on majorities and authorities.)

When any group of people is identified as being non-human, the rules of humanity and morality break down.  As a result, the first step to breaking down the moral moorings is to make people no longer people but instead animals – or, better yet, vermin, as was done in the SPE.

Respecting Change

For change managers, this means clear guidance to ensure that even the most vehement detractor remains human and therefore subject to the same respect that every human deserves by nature of being human.  This can be difficult in the heat of disagreements about change, where logical fallacies creep in and name-calling seems to become the norm.  (See Mastering Logical Fallacies for more.)

The best run prisons are ones where the jailers and the prisoners respect each other and recognize the humanity of the other group.  The prisoners realize that the jailers are doing their job, and the jailers recognize the prisoners as humans who have made a mistake rather than non-human animals.

The Prison of Status Quo

Too many change managers feel like they’ve been jailed by the status quo.  It resists the changes that the change manager feels are critical to the organization’s survival.  For change managers to accomplish their mission, they cannot attempt to overpower or dehumanize the status quo.  It’s formed by people who are trying to do their best and do something that has worked for everyone.

By building relationships that recognize the value that the status quo brings – even if it must be changed – it’s possible to build relationships with everyone in the organization and make them allies on the journey of change instead of devolving into mudslinging and resistance.

If you want to get people’s attention to a change session, mention that you’re going to talk about neuroscience, and you’ve got them.  The problem is that the most powerful and fascinating things that we know about human behavior have nothing to do with what we’ve learned from neuroscience.

Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging

Magnets are cool.  Really powerful magnets are really cool.  When you can monitor blood flow by monitoring minute changes in magnetic fields, you’ve got the ability to see inside of people’s heads.  Literally, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) uses electromagnetic fields to create a picture of where blood is flowing in someone’s brain.  Because increased neural activity causes increased blood flow, you know what parts of their brains are in use at any given time.

It’s great technology, and it creates pretty pictures, but from the point of view of the change manager, it doesn’t do much to explain how people are persuaded or how to make your change successful.  For that, we’ve got to look at classic science and explore how people behave.

Asch’s Line

Imagine yourself as a poor college student signing up for a study for a few extra bucks – enough to buy a pizza on Friday night.  You’re invited by Solomon Asch to a study of perception.  You won’t be injected with anything.  There are no tests to fill out.  You just need to sit in a room and answer some questions about the length of lines.

These aren’t optical illusions.  You and a few others you don’t know are shown one line on one card and are asked which of the several lines on the second card are the same length.  It’s easy enough that you should get 100% on this test, and you silently wish your calculus test could be this easy.  However, somewhere along the line, it takes a turn.

Some of the others start indicating a different line than the one you think is a match.  When it was just one other person, you brush it off and think about what toppings you’ll have on your pizza.  However, when two people give a different answer, you change your answer to theirs, assuming you must be seeing things wrong.  More startling is that next time everyone in the group disagrees with your initial assessment, you blink, and suddenly their answer seems right to you.  No longer are you adjusting your perception to match theirs – it’s done automatically.

The others in the group, you discover later, are collaborators, and the real study was on the impact of group pressure on perception.  You’ve just proved that a lie, repeated often enough, becomes believed no matter how much of a lie it is.  That leads us to the horror of the atrocities carried out by the Nazis and our attempts to discover how it could happen.  (See Nudge for more on Asch’s experiments.)

Milgram’s Shock

It was on campus at Yale where Stanley Milgram ran another study.  This time, he had you join another person in his office.  That’s where you and the other person were told that this would be an experiment about the impact of negative reinforcement on memory.  You’re divided into roles of teacher and learner.  It’s decided that you’ll play the role of the teacher, and you’re instructed how to use the device that will administer shocks to the learner after incorrect answers.  The device, you’re told, can administer harmful – but not fatal – levels of shock to the learner, who is hooked up to the device in a separate room out of sight.  You get a chance to try it out on yourself, and at low settings, it’s painful but tolerable.

The experiment proceeds, and you’re instructed to provide progressively higher levels of shock to the unseen learner.  If you’re like most, even when the learner indicates that they’ve got a heart condition and they’re afraid, you’ll go to the very top of the scale.  The learner was a collaborator of Milgram and was never hooked up to the device or in danger.

The real study is on the obedience to authority, and if you’re like most, you’ll obey authority.  However, there’s a trick: when the same experiment was done off-campus at a nondescript office, almost no one issued the highest levels of shock.

The message from classic psychology is that our obedience to authority is shaped by our perception of that authority.  (See The Lucifer Effect and Moral Disengagement for more on Milgram’s experiments.)

Shifting Perceptions

Two key learnings from classic psychological research leads to a useful understanding about how messages can be believed if they’re repeated enough and how people can do awful things that would seem to violate their values if they’re presented to them with enough authority.  It doesn’t matter which part of their brain was or wasn’t engaged if they saw things differently or were willing to harm others.

Change is often overwhelming for the manager and those stakeholders who are impacted.  However, a change is rarely the sole source of these overwhelming feelings.  More frequently, it’s the large set of changes that are necessary to reach the desired goal and the feeling that they all must be handled now.  The trick is to find the keystone changes that provides a firm anchor for the changes necessary to reach the objective and accomplish those changes before pursuing the next set of changes that will move us forward to the desired state.

Bad Habits Travel in Packs

The unfortunate news from addiction recovery is that bad habits like smoking, drinking, and poor eating tend to travel in packs.  That is, one of these habits tends to drive the others.  These influences flow in every direction, and they form a network of behaviors that tend to keep people trapped.  Organizations have similar sets of interlocking activities, processes, and sub-cultures that tend to hold the status quo in place.

When identifying keystone changes, it’s essential to identify which of the changes that need to be made can be made relatively independently of other changes.  It’s only by identifying which changes must be accomplished together and which changes may be accomplished relatively independently can we hope to untangle the ball of change into packages that can be tackled without becoming overwhelmed.  Finding a small set of changes that can immediately return value is key to getting the change process rolling.

Creating Slack

To create change requires effort, and expending the effort requires available capacity.  One of the keys to locating the keystone changes that need to happen first is to evaluate whether making the changes will allow you to save resources immediately and therefore reinvest those resources or whether the change is necessary but will only return on the investment after a long time.

Keystone changes make an immediate – or at least short-term – positive impact.  They free resources toward other larger aspects of the roadmap towards the desired state.  This positive impact helps to provide the energy necessary to sustain and accelerate the change.  If you don’t find changes that provide immediate impact, you may find that your change project runs out of steam before it reaches the desired goal.

Breaking Big Changes

While habits may travel in packs, and therefore you may need to accomplish several changes simultaneously, it’s equally important to decompose big steps into smaller steps.  For instance, you may need to improve the employee onboarding and offboarding processes to make the personnel management less burdensome.  While these processes are inextricably linked, they don’t have to be addressed at the same time.  If you see the word “and,” you should ask the question whether both need to be done.

Similarly, onboarding is a big process involving human resources, payroll, information technology, and facilities.  The keystone change may be changing the human resources aspects of the onboarding process – perhaps getting to a centralized human resource information system or at least getting to a unique employee ID number.  The next step might be to automate their provisioning in payroll, information technology, and facilities.  However, it can be that just managing the human resources aspects provides enough slack to keep things moving forward without anyone feeling overwhelmed.

Easier Said Than Done

In truth, it’s easier to say that you’ll identify the relationships between tasks and break them down into small, achievable changes than it is to do them.  However, if you can find those tasks which can be successfully completed without getting tangled by other changes that haven’t been made yet and provide immediate value, you’re on the way to laying down the keystone changes and, ultimately, to change success.

Any musician knows it’s the rhythm provided by the bass that holds the music together.  Whether it’s the electric bass providing a resonating reminder of the tempo the musicians share or, more commonly, the big bass drum pounding out the sounds that synchronize, music is held together by a tempo communicated through the bass.  In your change projects, you’ll need to find your own tempo for the project and your own tempo for communicating the change.

The Tempo of Change

Sounds don’t have one tempo.  Some are fast and some are slow, but all have their speed, which provides energy.  In change projects, the tempo is shaped by the size of the project – with larger projects generally requiring a slower pace and smaller ones being able to move more quickly.  The tempo is also shaped by the urgency of the change.  The more urgent the change is perceived to be, the more quickly the change must progress.

This master tempo of change drives the tempo of communication, just like the drum drives the speed at which the guitarist and pianist play.

The Tempo of Communication

The bass drum doesn’t play on every note or every beat.  It plays rhythmically to remind everyone the time.  Constant bass drum may work for a while – particularly when you want to drive energy into a song – but it quickly becomes tiring.  When planning the tempo of communications for a change, it’s important to first assess the intended tempo of the change and match the tempo of the communications you send to that tempo.  By matching the tempo of communications to the tempo of the change, you’ll begin to shape how others feel about the change – and hopefully get them swept up in the change itself.

Sometimes drummers and bassists intentionally lead or lag the existing tempo.  That is, they recognize the need for the music to speed up.  Perhaps it doesn’t feel like it’s got enough energy, so they push the tempo a bit to get to something that feels better.  Similarly, they can lag a bit to slow things down when it feels like everyone needs a break or the music is going too fast for everyone to stay together.

We can use our change communications in a similar way.  If we want to amp up the energy and the tempo of the change, we increase the frequency of the communications we send.  If we need to slow things down a bit to let everyone catch their breath, we intentionally pause or slow the bass line to give everyone a breather.

The Communication Kick Drum

A common challenge when considering your communications for a change project is how the work will get done.  With so many things going on in the change, how will you write all the content that’s needed?  The answer is to create some anchor content ahead of time and fill in with things as they’re happening.  Musicians know what the bass line will be, what the tempo will be, and what the key notes will be.  You can do the same.

While not all content can be pre-created, a lot of content can.  The kinds of content that get people excited about what they’ll be able to do, why we need to make the change, the vision of the future, etc., are all pieces that can be built and scheduled to go out on a regular basis.

While there is undoubtedly content that will need to be customized to the time and crafted right before it’s sent, you can get a head start by preparing content ahead of time and doling it out at an appropriate time.

Practice What You Preach

For us, we have built communications guides that are short and can be sent out to everyone regardless of where we are in the project (https://confidentchangemanagement.com/product/communication-tips/).  For our Microsoft 365 projects, we have engagement videos that are designed to show them what’s possible with the platform (https://www.sharepointshepherd.com/engage/).  We therefore have a library of resources we can pull from to create weekly, semi-weekly, or monthly communications.  This dramatically reduces the amount of content we need to create and allows us to keep the beat going even when we’re faced with a seemingly overwhelming amount of work.

More broadly, while there’s a blog post a week, we don’t write them right before they post.  We put them in a queue, and we pull them out one at a time so that you get a consistent rhythm to this blog – just like you would want in a change project.

Wedding days are a magical moment that girls and boys dream of from the time they’re little.  They get to be prince and princess living happily ever after.  However, this is generally where the dream – or fantasy ends.  They focus on the event.  They believe the transaction that is encompassed in the wedding ceremony is the thing they should look forward to.  Without taking away from the magic that can be the wedding day, there is more – the marriage.

In the context of a deployment of a new system, we often look forward to the launch day with the same dreamy expectations that it will be the culmination of the project.  The truth is, however, that the success of the project is not about the launch day, it’s about the adoption and engagement of the users after the launch is completed.

The Big Event

There is so much focus and preparation on the big event that it’s hard to see beyond it.  There are invitations to be sent and decorations and dresses to buy.  There are so many details to attend to – and those details can block the view to the other side.

As spectacular as the moment is – whether a wedding or a launch – it pales in comparison to the long-term commitment to the project or the marriage.  So while it’s natural to focus on the details of the launch and ensuring that everything is just perfect – or as everyone eventually finds out, as perfect as it’s going to be – it’s a shiny distraction from the long-term cost and commitment that the project will take.

Having “grown up” in software development, one thing was drilled into my head.  The cost of maintenance – the long-term support of the software you develop – will far exceed any costs you spend developing it.  It’s easy to say that this is no longer the case given the pace of change today – but good systems that deliver the most value to the organizations they’re used by always cost more in the long run than the initial burst of cost associated with the development.

The Merger Marriage

Some marriages look like partnerships – but only partnerships.  The two individuals make a contract with each other.  They agree to merge their finances, houses, and lives.  But it’s tit-for-tat.  I agree to do this but only if you do that.  While this is a basic collaboration strategy, it falls well short of the richness that can be found in a marriage.  (See The Evolution of Cooperation for more about tit-for-tat and other collaboration strategies.)  However, this strategy is a minimal investment strategy.  That is, each party invests what they minimally agreed to – and as a result, they get back the minimum that the other party agreed to.

There’s a different way of working on a marriage, where both parties invest just a little bit extra into the marriage than what they think they’ve committed to or that they’re getting out of it.  The result can be a level of trust, intimacy, reward that looks completely different than a merger marriage.

In change efforts, if we don’t find ways to invest just a little more effort in helping everyone use the results of the change, we may find that we achieve the goal of the change but fall well short of what is actually possible.  The organization may get return on investment if 20% of the impacted groups use the solution.  Perhaps that’s what the evaluation criteria for success was.  If you get 20% of users to contribute to a knowledge management solution or to update their profiles, the organization will, presumably, get the value that it wants from the implementation.  Shooting for the goal and intentionally stopping robs the organization from the impact of reaching 40% of even 80%.  While there are no guarantees that the greater adoption will result in greater results for the organization, it’s likely that the results will increase.

The difference between the merger or the success and the fulfilling marriage and overwhelming success lies in the amount of effort that you’re willing to put forth, not just in the development and launch (wedding) but in the willingness to make sustained commitments after the big day.

It comes up as a casual comment.  “We’re facing some change resistance.”  Your ears perk up and you wonder what’s leading to the perception of resistance.  As you and the commenter begin to explore, you realize that it’s not some magical force of resistance, it’s simply that the project isn’t moving as fast as hoped because of mass or inertia.

Inertia

Objects at rest tend to stay at rest.  In fact, organizations at rest also tend to want to stay at rest.  There’s an initial burst of energy that is required to break through the inertia and get things moving.  However, what is often ignored is that this inertia doesn’t occur once for the organization, it occurs in the organization, in the department, and in the individual.

Sequentially breaking the inertia for each department and individual may be no big deal.  However, if the initial burst of energy wasn’t large enough, it can seem like each new department and individual is a struggle.  Like launching something into orbit, with enough energy, things get going and seem to continue to circle effortlessly.  If we start with enough energy to fully break the inertia, the additional departments and individuals seem to just fall in line.  If there’s not enough energy in the initial launch, there may be no way to recover.

Mass

As a fundamental matter of physics, the amount of force in an object is the mass of the object multiplied by the square of the velocity.  Therefore, as we accumulate more mass, we need more force to keep moving forward at the same speed.  That means that we can’t kick off our change project and expect that it will coast forward on its own.  We must make continual investments in pushing it forward.

What we may be seeing as resistance may not be true resistance but simply the reduction in speed due to the increasing size of the change – or it may be friction.

Friction

In a complete vacuum, you can start an object in motion, and it will continue forever.  However, our organization aren’t vacuums.  Everyone has their own perspectives and beliefs.  Our change efforts naturally bump into these perspectives and beliefs and are slowed by the process.  That is not to say that friction is all bad.  The people’s perspectives and beliefs that the change collides with may be changed.  Like billiard balls on a pool table, they may begin their own motion and start to influence others towards the change.

Flywheels

Ultimately our change efforts should be like flywheels. They store energy in rotational energy and release it when they need to produce results.  To accomplish big changes, we need only to continue to add more energy to the flywheel than is taken out.  As the size of the change increases in scope, we need to increase the number of people who are adding energy to the flywheel, so that more can use that energy to accomplish their transformations as a part of the change effort.