What exactly are we talking about when we discuss change?
Of course, it can be the way we do things, or how things others do impact our actions. Sometimes, things outside of our control come into play. It may be the weather or the impact of conditions labeled as global warming. Impact also comes through actions of institutions such as schools, governments and religious organizations. We certainly can’t overlook change driven by inventions.
When you look around, it becomes easy to see. Pick almost any point in time and trace the related events that followed, and you can see changes that happened after that point. It may be changes with a tremendous impact, like computers and transportation. Or it may be more subtle and almost unnoticeable, like the loss of a species of bee. Nevertheless, change has an impact we eventually may have to react to. The scope of the impact and rapidity of the change are the critical factors we need to consider.
Is change good or bad?
How we view change can be an important aspect of this analysis. Is it the great helper, or is it the enemy? If we like variety, learning and have an attitude of acceptance, we likely see change as good. If we believe it adds complexity, deviates from the norm, and requires more effort or is a drain on society, we will likely see change as not so good.
It may be too simplistic if we try to put all change in the same basket. In almost any aspect of change, there are good results and not so good results, depending on your position or perspective. If we build cars with robots that work longer and make fewer mistakes, it makes cars cheaper and better for consumers. However, for the now-unemployed autoworker and the UAW, this change is not so good.
If you embrace change, your life may likely be easier. If you resist it, you are probably engaged in a continuous effort to hold back forces wanting to move in a different direction. People who resist change can have an important role to play in that they may force the change agents to be resolute in their efforts or at least to rethink how they might proceed in a more acceptable fashion.
Your position on change may lead to perceptions about you as an individual. Are you conservative or a roadblock, a loose cannon or a visionary? Can we determine why people end up in one camp or another?
It is clear that those who want change see its advantages. Those who resist change may feel they will lose something, or are concerned about will happen in the long run. Going down “the slippery slope” may capture the expectation of many that they will lose control over what they have in place, or they doubt they can redirect things once movement begins to happen.
Often labels get attached to aspects of change that don’t represent the true picture. A fruit or vegetable of the GMO (genetically modified organisms) designation raises all sorts of commentary, many of them negative, because people don’t really understand what this means. In today’s society, which sees how environmental factors can affect health and well-being, GMOs may be a boogie-man to be avoided. Yet, similar changes 30 years ago that promised to increase crops’ per-acre yield to feed the hungry were embraced with open arms.
This brings us to the issue of who the audience is for the discussion of change. If you can’t identify the various groups, you may have difficulty mobilizing the elements for the position you want to pursue. If you happen to be in one camp or the other, it is advisable to analyze who is advocating for or against the change and what they will gain from their position. This review may be most beneficial for determining if you are in the most appropriate group for your interests. It also opens the door to discussions of power.
The element of time
You may notice that with one change, another often follows, and the time between the changes frequently shrinks.
This especially seems to be the case when we look at change driven by technology. To deal with this, we have labels that recognize the way people accept changes in technology.
Everett Rogers developed these profiles:
- Innovators: more educated, more prosperous and more risk-oriented.
- Early adopters: younger, more educated; tend to be community leaders, less prosperous.
- Early majority: more conservative but open to new ideas; active in community and influential
- Late majority: older, less educated, fairly conservative and less socially active.
- Laggards: very conservative, small capital, oldest and least educated.
Change and human resources
What does all this have to do with matters of HR? It has everything to do with being an effective force in managing the people of an organization. If you don’t have the knowledge to see what is happening to your staff, both on the job and off, you are operating in a vacuum and you will be in trouble.
A recent example of note is the New York Times story about the work culture at Amazon. It was not a pretty picture. The CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, said it wasn’t the Amazon he knew. While it is likely the true picture is somewhere in the middle, to just say it isn’t that way is fool hearty.
Managers and owners must make a concerted effort to stay on top of change, internal or external, and have to continually modify how they handle it and stay in tune with their employees. If not, they will certainly fall into the “laggards” category, and the world will pass them by.
Ardon L. Schambers is president and principal at P3HR Consulting & Services LLC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.