Vision is an “it” word just now. We’re caught up by vision, aren’t we? Dazzled by it. Blinded by it, I think, at least in regards to driving change.

Of course, vision is important for some things, for driving an organization forward toward a common goal, for inciting people to work hard. As long as they are doing work they want to do. But it doesn’t make people change, at least you can’t lead change with vision. Managers often think you can, even that you must. And their initiatives stumble over that conviction.

“Things would be much easier if my boss would just let me handle his calendar.” 
“I could help my partners so much if they would just invite me into the planning process earlier.” “They could develop more momentum much more easily if the product team would pick a brand name that makes sense.”

I see issues like this after staff members have tried for weeks, often months, sometimes longer to resolve them. They are little petrie dishes of change management led by vision. The basic formula is this: Life would be so much better (vision), if only you would do what I say (change). And the staff and managers advocating for these changes learn through the laboratory of experience that the formula doesn’t work.Why people don’t change

The problem, of course, is simply that the people they are trying to influence don’t want to change. None of us do. The boss would like his admin to handle his calendar, and to be able to add appointments himself if the need arises. It causes hardship for his admin. But in the moment he is making entries to his calendar, that’s not in his mind. He’s doing what is easy.

It’s the same with the other examples as well. Your partners don’t want to invite you to their planning meetings because it’s a hassle to deal with one more schedule, one more voice in the room, one more agenda to accomodate.

And your vision, unless it’s remarkably powerful, is unlikely to change that. You’re fighting against Newton’s first law of motion: an object in motion or at rest tends to stay in motion or at rest until acted on by a net force. You can paint an attractive future but everyone knows in their bones that change takes work and nothing is simpler than whatever you’re doing right now. It turns out that vision isn’t as powerful as simple inertia.

So what do you do? Change happens. How does it? If vision can’t overcome inertia, what can?

The answer, it turns out, is dissatisfaction.

Before you paint a picture of how life could be, you need to reconnect the target of your influence to their own dissatisfaction with how life is now. That’s often a tough job, becuase what you’re most sensitive to when you’re trying to change Sarah is how bad life is for you, not her. Sarah is your boss, and she schedules her own appointments that double book her calendar. So you have to clean it up. It’s a hassle for you. And a big reason for you to try to change Sarah. But it’s not a big motivator for any Sarah I’ve run into.

So while you think she should change, and it would be a good idea to change, and things would run more smoothly if she changed. None of these arguments will work with her. People in these situations look for “magic words” that will get Sarah to change. And there aren’t any (actually there are a couple of Jedi mind tricks, but you’ve got to ask whether you want to run a game on your boss and what you’re going to do if and when she realizes you’re trying to manipulate her psychologically).

So without tricking Sarah you’ll need to help bring to mind the biggest problems she’s having as a result of double booking her calendar. The meeting last week with the GM in her partner’s group that she missed because she already had a meeting with another Senior Vice President on her calendar. The birthday party she came late to because she put an evening meeting on her schedule without thinking.

She won’t stop booking her own appointments because it causes you to have to clean it up. But she will stop if she realizes that it’s earning her a bad reputation with her valuable business partners (and how that will get reflected on her year end review, and how a bad review will translate into bonus money that she’ll miss, promotions that may have to wait, and plum assignments that get offered to someone who is more reliable).

Once, she’s clear how much she’s paying by double booking her own calendar, then it’s time to give her your vision–how much easier her life could be if she left the calendar to you, how you can back stop her, how you can cut the number of calls she has to take, how you can make sure she’s always making the best use of her time. Only, now she’ll have ears to hear the argument, because you’ve helped her realize how dissatisfied she is with where things are headed and she’s looking for solutions.

Tim’s Takeaway:

That’s the heart of change–not vision, but dissatisfaction, and not your dissatisfaction but dissatisfaction felt by the person you want to change.

So here’s the formula that drives change. You can thank David Gleicher for it.

Dissatisfaction X Vision X First steps > the Inertia of whatever they’re doing now.

Vision is important. But if you want change, work on creating dissatisfaction first.

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Filed under: Change ManagementInfluence and PersuasionLeadership

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