Change resistance is like gravity - it pulls you down but you can escape it

Kiev on a grey day (my photo)

Kiev on a grey day (my photo)

The grey color of the Dnieper river seems to merge with the sky on this particular drizzly day here in Kiev, Ukraine while I am enjoying a coffee looking out from the outside deck of the event center where I just spoke to CEOs at the Digital Evolution event. One of the attendees taps me on my shoulder and we start to talk about how to change things in organizations. The focus of the event was on how to use the technologies powering the #DigitalTransformation wave. In my talk I mentioned the need to design organizations to be set up for innovation. Not through a small innovation team that sits somewhere in the org chart but enabling all employees to innovate, and especially the ones at the edge who interact with their customers. The person who tapped my shoulder asked me how to break through existing practices locked up in processes built on old assumptions that limit people in stepping out of the mold and doing new innovative things. Essentially, this is about cultural change and libraries have been filled with books about change management so I won't pile on there but refer to one of the books I still think is the simplest place to start, 'switch, how to change things when change is hard' by the Heath brothers. Applying the approach outlined by this book, which borrows from dozens of others, is about setting your organization up for the breakthrough moment. The moment the change you are implementing can actually stand on its own. When you can take the training wheels of the bicycle. Even though you may not be able to fully measure it, it is worthwhile to think about how high the expected level of resistance to new things and conformity to the ways of old is in your org.

It takes 11,2 kilometer per second to break earth's gravity and be able to leave the earth. What about understanding the gravity-like pull of conformity in organizations? How much velocity is needed to escape that pull? Depending on the strength of 'change resistance gravity' in your organization, changing things take time. More time than we like to admit. It's pretty hard to walk away from the way we've always done things as it literally requires connections to be rebuilt in your brain, you need re-wiring work done. Case in point is this example of someone who tried to learn how to ride a bike where the steering was made to work the opposite way. It took him a year to unlearn the normal way of riding a bike. That is how strong resistance to change and the hardcoded existing wiring in your brain can be. Give it time.

(c) angeloredd

(c) angeloredd

But, as with most things, getting a sense of what things are like before you start to make changes, so you can see if things are indeed moving, is key and the technologies powering #DigitalTransformation allow you to become more objective about cultural change in your organization. Turns out, there are ways to understand changes in culture in your org that go beyond just asking your employees or looking at third party sites where (anonymously) the state of your company's culture is discussed. Organization health and change can be deduced from people's communication behavior. Workplace analytics is such a tool and it's available through Office 365. It helps understand whether the network within your organization is growing, whether people are increasing the amount of people they work with which is often an indication of improvement, of knowledge sharing and a foundation for innovation.

By the time we finished our coffees, we agreed that the analogy to flying and the pull of gravity works well in this part of the world which has such a strong technical engineering history. It seems the sun won't shed any light on the great city of Kiev today but warm coffee and good discussion on human behavior and adopting smart technology is enough to make up for it.

Erwin Hartenberg