During my working years I was frequently bothered with night-time acid reflux. Given the stresses of work and life, along with poor eating and exercise habits, I guess that’s not an unexpected consequence. In any case, one night last year, as I sat chewing two extra-strength antacid tablets in an attempt to soothe the burning in my chest, it struck me that there was a leadership analogy to this ailment that might be worth exploring.
Since I was already awake and needed to stay vertical for a while anyway for the antacids to do their thing, I figured I might as well think this through, and write it down. I decided that if, the next morning, I could read what I’d written that night, and it still made sense, I’d pass it along in a blog. It did, so I shared it with my colleagues then, and now I’m sharing it with the rest of the world.
We’re living and working in a time that requires us to process and implement a seemingly endless stream of changes. If our business leaders aren’t wise in the way they prepare for, or the way they ask the workforce to digest (starting to get the analogy?) these changes, the organization will develop “Change Reflux Disease”. Without getting too graphic, change reflux disease is the pushback that comes as a result of forcing people to take on too much change, implementing the wrong kind of changes, and/or choosing the wrong time to implement the changes. And, just like acid reflux disease, change reflux disease causes damage. It makes people miserable, keeps them up at night and dilutes their productivity.
So, if you’re leading the implementation of a change in your business, step back and take a systems thinking and human factors approach. Take a hard look at the magnitude and timing of the changes you’re trying to implement, and the context in which you’re trying to implement them. Gaining that perspective, and making thoughtful adjustments to the implementation methods and tempo, will reduce the organizational reflux. The prescription for avoiding change reflux is to: 1) prepare people to accept change by openly communicating the thinking behind the change; 2) informally engage a broad spectrum of people in the planning the change; 3) instead of the usual, “Now Hear This” change announcement communications, adopt a more holistic approach that enables them to see the WIIFM (What’s in it for me).
Is it realistic to expect business managers to take this more enlightened approach to change implementation? Maybe not…but it is something I would expect business leaders to do.