Achieving Business Success
By Robert L. Bailey
"I hate change!" Wouldn't you like to have a dollar for every time someone has made that assertion?
"OK," I've responded to people in my audiences across the U.S., "if you hate change, I'll make you an offer you can't refuse. If you have at least 20 years remaining in your career before you retire at age 65, I'll offer you a written contract to work your same job, with no changes whatsoever, at a significantly higher salary – say $500,000 a year – until you retire.
"Remember, the job won't change in the slightest detail. But keep in mind that your performance must be acceptable. If your performance isn't up to par, you can be fired – and you have to give the money back. How many of you will take me up on my offer?"
At this point there may be a few hands, but not many – usually fewer than 5% of the group.
Raising the stakes, "What about an annual salary of $750,000?" Then, "One million dollars?"
In most audiences, I get a sprinkling of hands – but fewer than ten percent normally will respond to my offer.
"To those of you who didn't raise your hands," I ask, "can they do it?" The answer is always a resounding "Nooooo." And I agree. It simply isn't possible for most humans to perform routine work for many, many years without change and still do acceptable work. I've observed dozens of conversations in which a manager asks why somebody hired "Ol' Joe or Jane" twenty-five years ago, when in fact Ol' Joe or Jane were competent workers when they were hired. They're simply sick and tired of doing the same thing throughout their careers.
So what gives? People often proclaim that they don't like change, but they won't agree to perform the same job without change.
This survey of my audiences, and my own experience as CEO of a major company, has convinced me that people love change. Everyone requires challenge and stimulation. Minds need to be stretched. All of us need to learn new things. The human mechanism works best when challenged every five to seven years. Throughout history there have been instances in which companies have been shut down by workers, not unhappy with their pay, but because of the monotony of their jobs. One auto manufacturer ran newspaper and magazine ads about a competing company out on strike, "Bored people make bad cars." I'll go even further – bored people make bad everything.
Why, then, do so many American workers say they don't want change? Because an important dimension of leadership has not been addressed. Leaders often address the "how to" dimension very competently – the technical aspects of performing a certain job.
But too often overlooked by senior management is the need to establish an atmosphere in which change is greeted positively – an environment in which people understand the value of job improvements – an environment in which employees are assured that they will be taken care of.
Any new job or procedure is clouded with uncertainty. Employees are thinking, "Am I smart enough to learn this new job? Will I like my new boss? Will a geographic move be required? What happens to me if this new fangled idea doesn't work out?" These and other fears spread like wildfire. All are normal concerns.
Because of this common anxiety, change can't be crammed down the throats of workers. New procedures need to be sold by senior management.
I often told employees faced with new jobs and/or procedures, "Give it a try for three months or so. If you don't like it, we'll move you back to your present job or we'll find another job in the company that you will like. You have been a capable, dedicated worker and have made many valuable contributions to our company over the years. We want to make sure that you remain in a position where you can continue to make significant contributions."
Given these assurances, I've never had a worker who said, "I want to go back." Not once.
Nearly without exception, employees enjoy new mental challenges and the stimulation of new job assignments. But they need to be assured that their futures are secure.
Giving assurance to employees is often the missing dimension of bringing about a positive "I love change" work environment.