How long does it take for an organization to change?  Is there an ideal velocity of change?  One of the dangerous half-truths covered in Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths And Total Nonsense is the idea that change "invariably takes a long time, is hard to accomplish, and is best if done slowly (p. 170).  Have you been part of an organization that embraced that idea as the whole truth?  Maybe even knew they needed to change but were convinced it would be best if done very slowly?  Probably we all have been there.

The reason that Pfeffer and Sutton refer to these as dangerous half-truths is that they can do great harm.  This one, the idea that change is best done slowly, is definitely in that category.  Why?  Think about it.  What is a more effective roadblock to getting things done than the idea that what you’re setting out to do is going to take a long time, be very tough, and needs to be done slowly?  That’s a recipe for let’s do it later if I’ve ever heard one.

Think about the three effects identified by Pfeffer and Sutton:

  • The deadline effect.  When you’ve got an assignment that is due in 6 months, when do you begin working on it?  What about a deadline that is 5 years off?  It just stands to reason that if the deadline for the changes to take effect is a ways off, it won’t be worked on until you’re right on the deadline!
  • The urgency effect.  When do you work on things that are urgent?  That’s right!  You get them done now.  On the other hand, if something is planned for a down-the-road delivery, how important can it really be?  If this were an important change for our team, the boss would have said, "this needs to be done by the end of business TODAY!"
  • The perception-of-difficulty effect.  What do you work on first?  The toughest item?  Or the ones that are easier and less involved?  There are definitely a few of us that automatically tackle the toughest things first.  But most of us…well given the choice we do the things that can be easily done and then when we have to, we get down to the more challenging items.  If you tell me that this is going to be an overwhelming challenge…I’ll do it later.

So, you’ve got these changes that need to happen and you’re now aware that with the right steps they could happen sooner, easier, and quicker.  Do you know what the steps are to a successful change effort?

The Ideal Velocity of Change