By Carol Newcomb, Senior Consultant
Change is hard. How does your company manage change? How do you personally respond to change? Why does it seem like everything changes at the same time, or that it’s never-ending? How can you possibly do your daily job while incorporating all the NEW ideas and NEW technologies and NEW demands on your time? When are you supposed to get a chance to actually think about the purpose of changes, and figure out how to put them all together into a manageable pattern? Sometimes it just seems like all too much!
I recently worked for a few years studying patient safety in hospitals, and collecting a lot of data from across the country on types of errors. Humans, it turns out, are very adaptable, but also very entrenched in our learned patterns of behavior and physical agility. By this I mean that things like driving a car, while initially quite challenging (remember how to slip the clutch while starting from a dead stop on a snowy uphill slope?) become simple with repetition. After a while, you don’t even think about all the little steps involved, and you just quickly let out the clutch, gage the slipperiness of the slope, and adjust the gas. No problem. And when some smarty-pants (like your husband) tells you you’re doing it all wrong, the response is undoubtedly scornful. Such is most people’s response to change. ”I can handle this myself, thank you very much.” Remember your first response to having to use a mouse or a keyboard? Several doctors I know were not too tickled.
And yet humans are also very adaptable. The literature on patient safety, and use of other technologies for that matter, document how once the brain stops consciously THINKING about how to do something, the subconscious brain kicks in and takes over, instinctively executing each step of a process without needing to affirm the need for each particular step. It becomes part of a repeatable patternâ€”like lifting a beer mug without spilling a dropâ€”or speaking a different languageâ€”that you can do without conscious or deliberate parsing of each micro-step. With enough time and practice, humans can adapt pretty well.
As consultants, what we work on with clients ALWAYS entails change. And here lies the paradox. While most clients look for consultants to make recommendationsâ€”to help them with things they are challenged with, to provide expert advice, to design a new way of managing their business, to recommend new technology, to train staff on new ways of collecting information, etc.â€”the ability to consume that advice or to incorporate new practices is tempered by the organization’s sensitivity to the impact such changes will have on their environment.
How many times have you heard, ”That’ll never work here; our culture just isn’t like that” or ”That may be a â€˜best practice’ but who has time for all the extra work?” New ways of doing things may be good ideas, but deliberate attention needs to be spent on incorporating them, digesting themâ€”so to speakâ€”so that they are not only accepted, but willingly practiced and even improved on over time. The biggest risk, when we leave a consulting engagement, is that the organization will simply ignore or reject our suggestions, and go back to business as usual.
This is the Change Paradox: Change is good, but change is bad. Change is hard when there is too much change at the same time. Change is necessary, but it can be overwhelming and destabilizing, especially if it compromises the work at hand. Change can be refreshing if the purpose and the steps are broadly understood and accepted, otherwise it can be a needless waste of energy that ultimately accomplishes nothing. Change can introduce new ways of thinking about the business and smarter ways to achieve business goals, but if can feel like chaos if not managed in digestible increments.
As you embark on a new project or a new set of practices, take the time to enlist the understanding and acceptance of those who will be most impacted by the proposed changes. Provide the time, the training, the leadership vision and purpose, and the support resources to ensure that all the â€˜newness’ can be incorporated, repeated and rewarded. Change is simple, but it’s also complex.
Image by Rafa Garcés via Flickr (Creative Commons License)
Newcomb is a Senior Consultant with Baseline Consulting. She
specializes in developing BI and data governance programs to drive
competitive advantage and fact-based decision making. Carol has
consulted for a variety of health care organizations, including Rush
Health Associates, Kaiser Permanente, OSF Healthcare, the Blue Cross
Blue Shield Association and more. While working at the Joint Commission
and Northwestern Memorial Hospital, she designed and conducted
scientific research projects and contributed to statistical analyses.
Posted March 18, 2010 6:00 AM
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