I had a conversation with several leaders recently about changes they needed to make in their organization. They said that they wanted to change, but their behavior didn’t align with that statement. After further discussion, it became apparent that for them, the perceived pain they would experience to change their present situation, was greater than the actual pain of continuing in it, even with an impending negative impact for others involved.
They aren’t alone. For many people in similar situations, there are enabling factors that create barriers to change. In some cases, their present situation may feed needs for status, power, attention, or increased financial rewards, even as it creates other problems. Sometimes there are others who benefit from the constancy of the negative situation, and change would disappoint or disadvantage them in some way. These co-enablers perpetuate an environment that makes it seemingly vital to continue the ineffective, unproductive, and emotionally dishonest behavior.
What Drives Your Pain?
Pain points are driven by a variety of situations.
- Working in positions or a career area that you no longer like, or aren’t very skilled at, because of the social status or financial gains it provides.
- Exhibiting unprofessional or emotionally unintelligent behavior, because it makes you feel powerful or helps to accomplish self-centered goals.
- Maintaining outdated and ineffective people policies that fail to engage and retain employees, because you’re unsure of what culture change will look like.
- Avoiding cost reduction measures in the midst of falling revenues, because of a reluctance to restrict spending or shift strategy.
- Delaying difficult business decisions or reorganizations, because they may reflect negatively on your leadership and legacy.
- Avoiding addressing a team member’s unproductive and disruptive performance, because you value their historical business knowledge.
- Complacency with the status quo, because the effort to galvanize change leadership requires more intellectual and emotional energy than you can muster up.
You recognize the pain because it manifests in worry, loss of sleep, physical symptoms, erratic behaviors, poor decisions, negative environmental cues, and increasingly becoming out of touch with what your inner spirit is telling you to do. In essence, you’re emotionally running from the truth, and denying the facts that surround you. You’ll eventually find that the actions you take to try to sustain your current course become increasingly ineffective. You may experience periods of denial that the situation isn’t working out, inappropriately blaming others for outcomes, or anger at others for seemingly unreasonable expectations.
The interesting part of such challenges is that the longer you delay, the more people in your environment become aware of the need for change. Stakeholders demand results, employees become disengaged, and teams spread negative reviews of your leadership. Ultimately, delay in facing your pain point harms not just you, but your entire organization.
Your Tipping Point
Even when we know that we should change our behavior, real change often doesn’t occur until the pain of our present situation is greater than the pain associated with change. This is our tipping point, and we need to embrace the fact that it’s coming. So, as you think about where you are uncomfortable with your current situation, start by asking one key question.
What is the risk of change vs. staying the same?
Pull out a sheet of paper and write your long-term goal on the top. Below that, on the left side, list the likely outcomes if the current situation continues, and the ways that harm you, other stakeholders, and the organization. Then on the right side, write down what change would look like, along with its associated benefits. Yes, this is a simplistic start, but it is a beginning to envisioning a more productive future before you reach the point of immense pain.
In medicine, physicians prescribe pain pills to be taken before you experience significant discomfort. The goal is to get ahead of the pain before it becomes overpowering and therefore more difficult to treat. Similarly, better decision making occurs when you’re not operating from a place of emotional or intellectual pain, or in reactionary mode.
So here are four pain pills to motivate you to change.
- Be proactive – Make decisions when your thoughts are clear, and the pressure isn’t on to sacrifice quality for speed.
- Be uncomfortable – This comes with growth and stretching. If the work is easy, you’re not driving enough improvement, so press forward.
- Be focused – Like glittering pebbles by the roadside, there will always be many distractions. But prioritize your objectives and keep your eye on the goal.
- Be disciplined – Yes, it’s hard, but the longer you delay, the more painful the change.
So what’s YOUR pain point and how will you change?