Why Change is So Hard

Einstein said we have one important decision to make in our lives, and that is to decide for ourselves whether we live in a friendly or a hostile universe. Our competition-laden lives are so burdened with proving ourselves that the friendly universe we’d all love to be a part of is all too elusive. And that process of proving is about feeling a sense of value – that we’re contributing to something larger than ourselves. This is all very Maslowian, of course; we’re humans, after all, and we all need some form of periodic validation.

So along comes the BPM expert with her “should be” process models that fly in the face of the “as is” state and, naturally, there’s instant defensiveness and insecurity on the part of those who designed the existing processes. In one fell swoop, their good work is undone, their sense of value shattered. This is no joke; it lies at the very heart of managing change.

Perhaps you’ve seen the movie Office Space. In it, a meeting with “The Bobs” – a pair of management consultants named Robert – was a dreaded goodness-of-fit test with the company. In my own work, I experience the very same apprehension when I interview staff (it can’t help that my first name is Robert, either). The fear is apparent; the nervous questions almost always precede the interview:

“Is everything ok?”

“Am I in trouble?”

“Is my job safe?”

It’s almost heartbreaking to listen as the interviewees’ fears rear their ugly heads. My job is to put them at ease, to reassure them that what management intends to do is simply refine, improve, better meet the competition. Rarely, I remark, do people lose their jobs over my recommendations. Truth is, sometimes they do. As such, there’s a need to balance the intimacy that facilitates good information gathering during discovery periods with the cool detachment of a professional whose charge it is to remain objective. The trick is to be understanding, to realize that questioning the way someone performs their work will often come across as threatening, undermining that fragile sense of value we all crave. Resistance to change is often a direct product of someone feeling threatened, less valuable, expendable.

The point of all this? There is a decidedly human side to business process management that far outweighs the technical or mechanical aspects. An old friend, a venture capitalist in Seattle who holds a PhD in Physics from Yale and an MBA from Wharton told me not long ago that his education was important, but he would have been far better served in his dealings with business owners and the staffs they employ with a psychology degree. All of the technical know-how in the world pales in comparison to the finesse of someone who understands human motivation, the “people part” of process. That’s why change is so hard.