Picture a hot, balmy afternoon in a small town in the middle of nowhere. Picture a run-down house alone on the edge of a cornfield with a wooden porch and clapperboard windows. Imagine an old, lazy dog laying out on the porch trying to escape the sun. Imagine the dog shuffling uncomfortably and whining constantly. Along comes another dog. It sidles up against the whining dog and says “hey, what’s the problem? Why are you whining so?”. The whining dog replies “because there’s a rusty nail from the floorboard sticking into my side and it hurts”. “Then why don’t you move?” says the second dog. “Because it doesn’t hurt enough,” comes the reply.
I tell this story on my change workshops as a metaphor for organizational change. You see, organisations are full of whining dogs. There is often a fair degree of pain, discomfort and frustration with the way things are now – enough for us to build a compelling change message – but is the pain bad enough to encourage people to engage with the prospect of embracing change? Offices and workplaces are full of people who complain about ‘the way things are’ but who then resist change – people who know there must be a better way, but who baulk at the prospect of making it happen. The same point is made by the famous Gleicher Formula, which states that D X V X F > R, where ‘D’ is the dissatisfaction with the way things are now, ‘V’ is the vision of the future, ‘F’ is the clarity around the first steps to achieving that vision and ‘R’ is the resistance to the change. In a nutshell, the formula says that the combined ‘score’ of D, V and F has to be greater than the score for R, otherwise change will not occur. In comms language, it means that we have to have positive engagement around why we’re changing, where we heading and how we’re gonna get there … and then hope that all that outweighs the forces of resistance, such as fatigue, disengagement, lack of investment, flagging leadership commitment, active disruption and general apathy. I often use the Gleicher Formula in presentations about change to make me look intelligent, but the whining dog story works just as well. They both essentially emphasize the fundamentals of change communication – we have to reach a tipping point at which our people decide that the effort required to change is ‘worth it’ – that the uncertainty and stress of undertaking change is outweighed by the good that will come from it. To do that, we have to move along the three lanes of the highway – ‘why’, ‘where’ and ‘how’ – at the same time. Failure to have a convincing message behind each of these will reduce the score on the left side of the formula and risk the failure of the change.
I heard a third analogy the other day which I also think sums this challenge up rather well: “Even hell is a hard place to leave if you know your way around.”