Leverage points of change

A reworking is not a task with a beginning and an end but an ongoing job. Heraclitus expressed this in simple words: Panta rhei (Everything flows). Since those affected like to adhere to the existing, any change is a trigger for resistance. The consequences are institutionalized measures for change. In the simplest case, adjustments are considered to start on a specific date – without prior notice or consultation with those affected or with little preparation. It is as if Archimedes wanted to unhinge the world by embracing it with his arms and trying to lift it. Naturally, this goes wrong because it is too heavy.

“Give me a place to stand on, and I will move the Earth”

With a powerful lever that should be a few million light-years long and, above all, a fixed touchdown point, he could do it purely mathematically. Significant changes in companies, e.g., the replacement of SAP or the transition from a classically frozen to a networked company, feels for most of those responsible just as tricky as levering out the earth. Yet, it is a question of finding the right leverage point.

The many small commonplace changes are realized because people affected cushion the shortcomings through their skills and conscious cooperation. What works on a small scale should also be possible on a large scale. With the right leverage points, every change succeeds.

  • Internal leverage points
    Decision-makers have the most substantial access to internal levers – including structure and processes, knowledge and abilities, and resources. For a far-reaching change, the first step is to identify internal stakeholders with their needs and expectations.
    – Since the top executives are the most influential multipliers (e.g., a company with five thousand employees (MA) and five board members mathematically reach 1,000 MA), it is crucial to keep their awareness of this redesign constantly awake and to involve them as often as possible, for example, as sponsors.
    – A change without the employees is doomed to failure. The best way is to turn those affected into participants, who can directly influence the new normal. This is done through regular publications, workshops, and major events with Q&A.
    – Profound innovations undermine everything that people affected know, leading to instinctive refusal. Through publications that describe early on what’s new and appropriate training that exercise on operating new equipment and the desired behaviors, employees understand what is changing – lowering their uncertainty and anxiety and thereby avoiding too much resistance.
    Significant changes cannot be implemented overnight. As a result, the old continues for a particular time while the new is developed and put in place. This requires the willingness of those involved to think in Two ways. For this reason, the active use of internal leverage points is inevitable. At the same time, the new becomes much more durable with the early involvement of those affected.
  • External leverage points
    When the corporate focus is on core competencies, it leads to aspects of the environment becoming more weighty – i.e., social, political, economic, environmental, legal, and technological influences. It is essential to know the external stakeholders and the environmental impacts. Since the external measures have a lower degree of effectiveness, it is vital to deal with these influences at an early stage.
    – Public relations is a significant parallel measure. That way, relatives and other stakeholders are reached with the support of public opinion to influence them indirectly – e.g., when families dislike the changes; local citizens’ groups organize resistance; government agencies enforce their rules hair-trigger.
    – Lobbying is an established way of exerting influence on politicians, business people, legislators, and, for example, environmental groups. To this end, companies join working groups to prepare studies and drafts. That way, the intentions of corporations are considered in the new regulations.
    – By researching and developing new technologies and standards, companies create opportunities for themselves to help shape the future. In change management, development participation promotes acceptance among those affected and ensures the long-term usability of the change.
    The influence on the environment is a time-consuming task that does not only begin when a change is imminent but long before and afterward as a continuous preoccupation with the environment. The individual changes then reuse the external leverage points as needed.
  • Mental leverage points
    The most challenging aspects are the employees’ beliefs. As long as they are in resistance, the changes cannot be reliably implemented. The reasons for this are understandable.
    – A significant blockage occurs when those affected do not know or understand the new. Therefore, it is crucial to enable employees to deal with it and, if necessary, to ask questions.
    – Once they know what is involved, skills need to be developed to master knowledgeably the new. This requires adequate training and practice.
    – Even though leaders often feel that employees need little say, it is still beneficial to pick up on their states. If they do not want to get involved with the new, it must be clarified why. Otherwise, the unwilling will infect the semi-willing with their aversion and thus burden the implementation.
    – Top leaders often cannot believe it, but it also happens that direct supervisors don’t allow employees to engage with the new or even participate in its development. This is usually because the current specifications have a higher priority, and this should not be jeopardized.
    The evaluation of the innovation lies in the eye of the beholder – especially those affected. However, they are the ones who have to accept the change.

Bottom line: Even if a change occurs all the time, it does not mean that we can master it properly. Furthermore, significant upheavals are unexpectedly more difficult. To get them done, you have to deal with the internal, external, and, above all, mental leverage points and apply them skillfully. Every change succeeds by using the right leverage points of change.