Change Curve

Star Salesman

Low Goals, Ceremonialism, Change Groups, and the Hawthorn Effect all depend on effective leadership.  The best change managers are Star Salespersons.  They add drama and pizzazz —they practice Management by Wandering Around (MBWA).  They Communicate by Wondering Around (CBWA)—in person, over the net, with posters, with t-shirts & other apparel, in white papers, in books and booklets.  They are the cheerleader.  But they also have to do their homework.  They understand Change and they are prepared for it.  They determine the knowledge required and develop programs to deliver it.  They understand the importance of attitude.  They never force change.  They don’t utter the words “Do it because I said so.”  They involve the people that will be affected by the change in the decision to change and in planning and managing the change.  They reward accomplishing new skills and they stay involved as needed to assure that those new skills become habit.  They are there from the beginning through the Valley of Despair (the bottom of the Change Curve) and the eventual climb to the targeted new level of performance or benefit.

A little advance planning, disseminating the right knowledge in the right form to the right people, ceremonialism, recognizing accomplishments, paying attention to it can pay big dividends in terms of achieving the desired benefit without costly disruption and frustration.


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Authority Triangle

When sales goals aren’t being achieved, when customers are complaining about the availability of support, when production is falling behind demand, the standard answers are always the same—add personnel.  The new resources are brought online and sales decline, customer service worsens, and production falls further behind.  What is going on?  It is the downward spike of the Change Curve and it can be explained by the Authority Triangle.  There are three kinds of decisions and actions that can be made by an individual on the job. 
  1. Do it
  2. Do it and then report it
  3. Recommend and ask before acting
The fully competent incumbent operates in category 1, Do it, 80% of the time.  15% of the time they act in category 2, but then report the action taken in time to reverse or modify the step taken.  Only 5% of the time do they delay action until authorized to act. 
For the new addition the authority triangle is reversed.  80% of the time the new addition is asking permission before acting.   That consumes productive resources and thus reduces the total output of the unit.
Over time the Authority Triangle is rotated and eventually the new edition begins to add to capacity rather than consume it.
One of the things managers have to be concerned with is the rate of that rotation.  If it is too slow, the new resource continues to be a burden rather than an asset.  If the rotation is too fast, the new addition subjects the organization to undue risk—acting before they have the competence to do so.
The Authority Triangle is an important concept in evaluating new additions to the organization.  Those turning the triangle too slowly or too quickly need to be weeded out, making room for the organization to try again to bring in a long-term productive member of the team.
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Hawthorne Effect

One tool for minimizing the downward spike of the Change Curve involves capitalizing on the Hawthorne Effect.  Management scientists found that increased attention alone improves performance even if only temporarily.  Daily and hourly progress reports, increased MBWA/CBWA (management by wandering around/communication by wandering around), setting initial low goals to reinforce accomplishments, awards and recognition to celebrate milestone goals, achieving goals, ceremonies to kick off change—putting change on center stage with drama and pizzazz provides a countering upward force.  The Hawthorne Effect will flatten the downward spike of the Change Curve.  A word of warning is appropriate, however: increased attention alone is not enough.  Studies indicate that productivity often drops when the increased attention is withdrawn.  Taking advantage of the Hawthorne Effect is an important tool, but is only one of the tools for managing change.

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Limited Resources

Relative Perception influences the downward spike of the Change Curve but an even more profound influence is the natural limitation on resources.  Large changes have put many companies out of business.  The depth and width of the downward spike becomes too big to overcome.

A not infrequent example is that of a small company in a relatively fast growing market that wants to significantly increase sales results.  A new sales manager is hired (or worse, their top salesperson is promoted) and given the objective of doubling new account acquisition.  The plan seems simple enough.  To double sales, double the sales staff.

Only the objective is never realized.  In fact, if you double your sales force quickly, sales typically fall through the basement.  Why?  It takes time for new additions to become productive.  So while new salespeople aren’t yet productive, the original salespeople are spending much of their time mentoring, training, and answering the questions of the new people.  Never forget Parkinson’s Law: work creates work.  Deploying new resources is work.  Like it or not, the introduction of new capacity actually decreases productivity until those new resources are deployed and fully productive.  Do it too fast and you can put an organization out of business.
For an enterprise purposefully pursuing long term success, there is no such thing as unlimited resources.  It makes no difference if you could actually double the sales force, triple it or quadruple it because you have the funds.  It makes no difference if un-deployed labor, capital, or material is available.  Deployment, not availability, is the issue.  Resources have to be deployed to become productive and deploying them consumes existing resources and energy.  The concept of limited resources due to deployment is like an hourglass.  You may have access to labor in the case of the sales staff example, but the only way you can successfully deploy those additional resources is incrementally.  You have to get them through the neck of the hourglass, if you are to deploy them without a large negative impact on performance. 

Managing Change-KASH

In order for the downward spike of the Change Curve to be stopped and the upward movement to occur to the point of achieving the targeted higher performance, those involved must have four things: new Knowledge combined with the right Attitude to acquire necessary Skills which through use become Habit.

The people affected must acquire new knowledge—for the sake of illustrating what I mean by new knowledge, think of a user’s manual or training.  The receptionist trying to deal with a new phone system has to be trained, and equally important all the people in the office have to understand how their piece of the system works including its new benefits and features.  If they have been given that prerequisite knowledge, or eventually dig it out themselves, then with the right attitude they will acquire new skills (the skill to use the new equipment and features).  In short they will know how, but until those skills become habit, higher performance will go unrealized.  It is only over time that those skills become habit and allow the Change Curve to reverse its downward trend turning upward from its low point, the valley of despair, to climb up to targeted performance.  It is like a golfer or other athlete who develops muscle memory.  Taking advantage of the new equipment and benefits has to become instinctive.  If you have to take the time to check with others, refer to a checklist or open a user’s guide, the new system will still be getting in the way of performance.

When a receptionist dealing with a new phone system says “If you ask me this has just made things worse,” she is the victim of a lack of proactive change management. Sooner or later, in the example of the phone system, the organization will survive and get some of the desired benefit of upgrading its phone system—but not before hurting its performance and frustrating its people and customers for some period of time.  But other changes, left to similarly fester, can literally put a company out of business.  It is a scenario I have seen played out many times. 

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The Change Curve

Business success occurs through change.  The organization seeking purposeful long-term success pursues Excellence and Lead Positions.  It practices Constant Innovation.  It diligently simplifies and eliminates.  It practices Management Judo and guards against developing weaknesses internally.  The organization that does not do those things is at the mercy of the natural forces that change us for the worse.

I am reminded of a TV commercial.  Unfortunately I can’t remember what the ad was for.  It showed a harried office receptionist trying to handle incoming phone calls.  She says, “They told us that this new phone system would make everyone more productive.”  There is a long pause.  She looks into the camera and says, “If you ask me they have just made things worse.”  To understand why things got worse, you have to know what change looks like.  We make changes like the new telephone system because we want to move to a new level of performance or benefit as illustrated here. 

In the real world that is not the way change behaves.  Change creates a sharp downward spike in performance—the bigger the change, the bigger the downward spike.  The less investment made in preparing for and managing change, the bigger the downward spike.  The Change Curve turns upward only over time, and the rate of that upward climb is dependent on how effectively the change is managed. 

PS: My new novel, The Claret Murders just got another great review from one of the professional review organizations.  This is what Kirkus had to say: "Collins keeps the story motoring with writing that is frank but not scant, muscular but not tough-guy, something akin to the 1960s TV show The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”  You can get e-book copies (Kindle, Nook or Ipad) for just $2,99 or the printed copy for $15.99.