Humans as a species are open to change (full stop). Just as Charles Darwin decreed; It´s not the strongest who survive, but those who adapt. How open to change a person is, that can always be subjectively discussed, and to some extent also measured. But that’s not what’s important.

Force of habit

When I face a choice to continue to do as before, or to operate in a different way, my brain semi-consciously calculates it for me in a flash. The formula is quite simple; what will it mean to change my behaviour, or not? Or more correctly; what positive and negative impacts will I experience on the basis of the two options?

Unfortunately, the brain will not be quite fair in its assessment. What I have done before has an advantage over the new; I´m aware of what it is now — I’m used to it.

One example was when I was supposed to replace my old laptop. I really enjoyed my traditional 15-incher, while I wanted a smaller 13-inch ultra-book. I partly resisted because I would have to go from Windows 7 to Windows 8, and I had both read and heard that Windows 8 was “complicated”. Complicated in this case was my subjective translation of “wasn’t used to it.” After several weeks I realised that I dodged my situation even more, by using both computers for different tasks. So I forced myself to get rid of the old one.

In the example above, I only had to handle myself. So how can we handle others when we want them to change their behaviour? First and foremost, we should revise our approach.

Delete opponents out of your vocabulary

As I’ve written so many times before; deal with others as you want them to be. If for example, you think that a person behaves disrespectfully, meet him/her as a respectful person, and manage him/her respectfully. When it comes to the so-called opponents, it will be, if possible, even more important.

In most change management methodologies, they raise the importance of identifying and managing the opponents of change. Which for me creates a battle against windmills, and therefore only handle two categories of people:

  1. Those who are for the change: proponents
  2. Those in favor of the status quo: pre-proponents

Yes, I call them pre-proponents. They are not proponents yet, but my ambition is that they will be, sooner or later.

With the approach above, we are halfway through. Now we need to “speak” to the emotional system.

To buy in the change

When it comes to consumption, what do we primarily buy; things we want, or things we need?

With this insight we need to sell a change so that the pre-proponents want it. The mistake many change agents make is to operate on a purely rational level, explain the importance of a change, and how much we need it, and then settle with that.

When we want to sell an idea to people’s emotional system, we must take into account the two basic emotions that have the greatest impact on people’s behaviour. Which is the desire to achieve something positive, and/or avoid something negative.

Package the message with the following formula:

Capable (positive):
Demonstrate that the target person has knowledge and experience to incorporate the change.
Prerequisites (positive):
Demonstrate that resources are available during the transitional period.
Profit (positive):
Demonstrate the profit based on the target person´s motivators.
Cost (negative):
Be honest with costs during the transition period.
Risk (negative):
Mention obvious risks and backup plans to minimize unnecessary speculation.

Make sure that the first three (positive) components overshadows the last two (negative). Note that the formula must be sincere and honest.

Congratulations! You have successfully encouraged and committed people to change.

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Håkan Lövén

Håkan Lövén

Senior Management Consultant at Avega Group AB
I help executives and their teams to improve their contribution to their stakeholders. Through consultation and training I assist my clients to develop a more efficient leadership, teams and coworkers.
Håkan Lövén

CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 Reduce the law of least resistance – a little bit different approach to change management by Håkan Lövén is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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