Two frequently heard phrases in many companies are “Change is the only constant” and “Change is the new normal”. These sayings reflect the accelerated pace of change in processes and tools as compared with things just a few decades back.
The fly in the ointment is the human factor – we are certainly more flexible than our simian ancestors but we have not yet reached the point of change fluidity to be able to adapt on the fly. Everyone takes some time to internalize and to gain efficiencies when learning something new – it may not require Gladwell’s 10,000 hours, but it is not immediate.
This effect applies equally to those who are fully embracing a change as well as those actively resisting it and how much practice and how much time is required to be ready for the next change varies from person to person and is dependent on the magnitude and complexity of the previous change’s impact.
Until we have repeated new procedures sufficient times for reactions to become automatic, we are forced to check ourselves constantly to ensure we are taking the right steps. This frequent need to check generates internal tension which dissipates as we become more and more familiar with the new practices. With sufficient time and practice, the changed procedures become our “new normal” at which point the change tension spring is fully relaxed and we are primed for the next change.
The challenge in many organizations is that the desired pace of change outstrips the staff’s ability to quickly return to a state of equilibrium. In such environments, a new change gets introduced before the previous change has been fully assimilated and tension increases. Over time, this escalating tension will cause increased resistance from even the most change resilient staff. Taken to the extreme, frequent process improvements result in worse productivity than if no improvements had been implemented.
So how can this be avoided?
- Recognize that after each change, staff require varying amounts of time to return to a state of process control – the larger the change, the greater the time required.
- Provide ample opportunities for them to practice the new procedures to help reduce this time, and ensure there is good support and encouragement as they go through the process.
- Monitor process outputs to measure defect trends – once the level of defects has dropped to acceptable, stable levels, there is likely to be broad receptiveness for the next change.
As seen in the movie The Matrix – Neo can “jack in” and learn about Kung-Fu and advanced weaponry, but knowing the path and walking the path requires almost the full film.