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Why Change is Hard

Whether you’re wondering why there’s a 70% failure rate of change projects, why your personal change projects are failing, or you are hearing it from others, the conclusion that change is hard isn’t hard to come by.  What is sometimes hard to come by is the awareness that all things you do for the first time are hard, and they gradually become less difficult and more repeatable.  Change is the same way: there are ways to learn how to make change easier.

Driving a Car

I remember drivers’ education.  I was stuck in a car with a slightly militant instructor and two other teenagers who, according to the instructor, each wanted to take the lives of everyone in the car.  When it was my turn, I could feel my heart rate quicken, my breaths get shallow, and my blood being squeezed from my fingers as I gripped the steering wheel like I was holding on for dear life.  The first 20 hours of driving were the worst.  The next 20 with my mom and stepfather sucked – but less so.  Driving on my own required focus but got better.

With a few decades behind me I can honestly say that I don’t focus that much on it.  I’ve learned the rules of the road, what to pay attention to and what to ignore.  It’s all much more manageable.

Learning the Rules

In the case of change, the rules of the road aren’t that conceptually difficult, but they go against everything you’ve ever learned.  It’s hard to accept that just telling someone doesn’t work.  They’re not going to do it because you said so – even if they heard you.  There’s so much noise and so many demands on our time that we can’t command people to change even if we’re in a position of power.

The rules of change are communicate and motivate – and keep doing it.  The problem is that most people don’t.  Most people complete the task on the communication plan that says to notify the users, and then they trick themselves into believing that this was enough.

Building the Skills

If we want for it to be less difficult, we need to develop the skills that are needed to succeed in change.  We need to look at our communication and motivation skills honestly and find ways to make them better.

Our communications skills fall into the categories of strategy and individual communication skills.  In the case of strategy, we need to make a plan – and we have to build the kinds of epic stories that resonate with people.  One way to generate the epic stories is to use Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey as a guide.

On the individual communications skills side, we need to learn from marketing, science, and human resources to find ways to get people’s attention and to get them to read what we’re writing.  (We’ve got a free communications tips course that teaches these skills.)

Motivation skills means learning what’s important to others and speaking and engaging with them in ways that connect with the things they value.  Our Basic Motivators Resource Book explains how to do this.  You can also learn what things influence all people.  Everett Rogers’ Knowledge-Attitudes-Practices model explains one of these views.

Pulling it Together

Change is natural.  It’s not inherently hard.  It’s only hard when you’re trying to do something when you’ve not been trained.  When you get the right training and support, change isn’t any harder than driving a car.

Paving for Change

When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white person, she didn’t expect that racial disparity would disappear overnight.  When Dr. Martin

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Fear of Success

One of the oddest barriers to getting people to change their behaviors is their fear of their own success.  Instead of looking forward to the

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Shared Delusions

The team has finally finished the work in defining the change that will chart the course for the organization for the next two years.  The

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Degree of Support

Sometimes, the greatest challenge in getting your change initiative accomplished is knowing whether people are really on board with the change – or if they’re

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