Probing the Limits: Being Right About Proposed Changes

August 1, 2005
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Doing your homework and making sure that proposed changes are good ideas is critical to continually improving organizations.

Quality professionals in a continual improvement role often become frustrated with resistance to change or lack of management support for proposed changes. This is a common issue in the quality profession and one many of us struggle with.

I believe that discussions relating to resistance to change or lack of management support often skip a key issue in the discussion: Is the proposed change a good idea or not?

When I hear someone lamenting about the lack of management support or the resistance to change in his organization, I ask what change he is proposing. I often find that the proposed idea is a bad, counter-productive idea-all things considered-and I'm not surprised he is getting resistance.

When proposing or driving change in an organization, it is critical that the leader of this change do his homework and know with a high degree of certainty that the change will be a good thing for the business-all things considered. Proposing changes that don't consider the overall impact to the business or that are poorly analyzed can do great harm to the organization and to the credibility of the quality professional. Any continual improver throwing out ideas without critically and thoroughly evaluating them should not be surprised by a lack of management support.

It is important to be right when proposing a change in an organization because upsetting the stability of the status quo operational methods should be considered a high-risk maneuver. Quality professionals understand the need for both consistent, repeatable processes and also the need to change those processes to make them better. We often glamorize continual improvement projects that improve performance and dismiss the value of "the way we have always done it." Sticking completely with "the way we have always have done it" is a formula for stagnation and the death of the organization, but carelessly messing with the formula can cause chaos and counterproductive changes.

The stability of established processes has great value. Established processes take little time to manage and provide a comfortable work environment. They keep us from doing everything for the first time and make an organization efficient. There also is a good chance that established processes are a certain way for a good reason. Often an established process may not appear to be efficient because the continual improver is only considering the factors affecting his job.

Strong-willed leaders that drive change for personal political gain are doing so at the expense of the organization. Change implementers who get shot down for advocating change without considering all factors deserve to be shot down and should learn from the experience rather than complain about a lack of management support or an inherent resistance to better ideas in the organization.

I think it boils down to the importance of being right about the continual improvements that you advocate. That means understanding the whole business, doing your homework and getting people on-board with the change idea over time so they become supporters. If a proposed change is going to affect other areas, then talk to those department managers to see how it is going to impact them. Maybe once those inter-departmental issues are aired, the change might not seem like such a good idea.

The status quo does have great value and it is not wrong for people to seriously question any changes to it. This makes the importance of being right about the proposed change even more critical. When a change leader has done his homework, then protectors of the status quo will be more convinced and less resistant to the change.

When I look at organizations, it seems that there are huge opportunities to implement changes that dramatically can improve performance. The status quo way of doing things allows us to work efficiently, but the business world changes quickly and opportunities for improvement are constant.

Putting more effort into verifying that change ideas are good ideas before they are proposed prove beneficial to the organization and the change implementer. Resistance to change becomes less and the credibility and value of the change leader improves.

Do you share my opinion that resistance to change isn't always a bad thing?

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