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“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Why change isn’t always good.

My editor has a complaint. “William! So far all your articles seem to be about change being a good thing. Perhaps try and give a more balanced view and show examples of when change hasn’t worked”.

It is always good to get feedback even if it isn’t necessarily what you want to hear. My editor makes a good point. I have written a fair amount about the benefits of change and it is true change isn’t necessarily good.

I therefore considered this constructive criticism on my morning walk along the banks of lake Zurich before settling down once again to my MBA dissertation. I didn’t come up with a suitable example for the blog of change being bad. Of course there are lots of examples of change being bad in everyday life, but I couldn’t think of a nice, personal, interesting example.

My morning walk along the shore of Lake Zurich

My friend and former colleague Rob was arriving from Milan that evening. I decided to ask him. Over a beer, while waiting for the Yorkshire pudding to rise we discussed when, in our former workplace, change had been bad. After racking our brains for an hour we still hadn’t come up with a good example. Exasperated Rob said, “we didn’t change anything that didn’t need fixing; the changes we made were necessary”.  He’s right; in the words of an old English saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

Change usually has a cost but it is the human element too that is usually most problematic and often overlooked. Change is generally traumatic for people. I admit I’m unusual, I find it exciting but for the majority of people, this isn’t the case. Change needs to be carefully managed and only carried out when the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. I hope you find this graphic detailing the transition cycle useful for better understanding how people react to change.

The Transition Cycle (Williams, 1999). Edgar Meyer lecture notes (see note).

This is a slightly more complex graph than the negative response to change graphic that I published earlier in the year. Here we see the various personal outcomes of change and just how traumatic it can be –sometimes people don’t recover and end up leaving the company.

Note: The transition cycle – a template for human response to change (Williams, 1999) reprinted from Dr Edgar Mayer’s MBA lecture on Change Management at the University of Southampton, UK 05/05/2011.

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