Monday, July 20, 2009

No pain no change

We're all aware of the saying "no pain no gain" especially when heading out to the gym - basically there won't be any benefits unless we push ourselves and prepare our body to hurt as we train our muscles to a higher load or rate.

Business is the same. All organizations want to be able to respond to changing marketing conditions and grow, which means being receptive to change. Some organizations want a higher degree of change than others, especially in situations like rapidly declining revenue or market share.

It amazes me the number of organizations who want to change, but are not prepared to apply efforts to overcome resistance. Although they intellectualize the need for change, as soon as someone resistant to change flexes their muscles, the organization shrinks back.

I've been on the receiving end of angry sales people, SEs, support, engineers who have actively sought to stop change within the organization, even though they understand that the current path was leading to failure. At Novell the organization was committed to continuing the way they had done things for years, even though NetWare market share and revenue was rapidly declining.

There are many reasons for this, but in the workplace we seek to reduce conflict and emphasise harmony. As individuals we like certainly and routine. But these human needs are diametrically opposed to implementing change. The champion athlete is generally identified as someone who is able to push through the pain barrier - they see the outcome as worth the pain.

Sure there are things we can do to "sell" the need for change to the organization, and good Product people really focus on a smooth roll-out. We gain support, sell, and build an overall consensus. But we must also train our executive team on the need to push through the pain barrier. Prepare them for people to be upset, to push back, but ensure that this is seen as a normal part of the process.

As a product person it's important to know that the executive team has "got your back". If the exec team wants change without pain, then they are living in a fools paradise, and it's time to revaluate if you'll be successful at change.