Change Needs Constant Attention

Quick Summary: Proposed changes need more than an initial, enthusiastic push out of the starting gate.


To maintain any activity, energy must be expended constantly to keep up its momentum.  Resistance is always present and it cannot be stopped, but it can be overcome with the correct level of attention. Changing activities, no matter how enthusiastically supported initially, rarely is successful without constant attention.

We have all experienced in our personal lives, business environment, and with the government, the announcement of a new program or activity that is started with much fanfare and optimism.  The projected positive outcome is obvious and everyone agrees how great the new approach will be.  Unfortunately, over time, the new activity or program seems not to work as projected.  In fact, in many instances, the “new and better” becomes “new and worse”.  Why does this happen?  We can blame Mother Nature and the Laws of Physics!

In thermodynamics (ugh!), this phenomenon is referred to as Entropy.  At the risk of oversimplifying the concept, it can be summarized as if a system is left alone, there will be a gradual decline into disorder.  Being “left alone” means not providing continuous attention or energy.  Ice cubes are a good example.  Neatly arrangement water molecules in ice cubes will quickly transform into random puddles of water without the constant exposure to cold.  In the business world, a CEO or manager can announce a new program which is enthusiastically supported but quickly becomes mired down without their constant attention. Think of new government programs passed into law by Congress only to become administrative nightmares due to the lack of constant oversight.

Changes usually require an initial “push” to overcome initial resistance but then require sustained efforts to keep the newly created momentum moving in the desired direction.  Think of flipping a coin in the air.  Initially, an upward force gets the coin moving upward.  However, when the upward force is removed, gravity takes hold and slowly “sucks” the kinetic energy out of the coin until it stops for an instant in midair and then starts falling.  New or changed processes can easily experience the same fate as the doomed flipped coin.  Unlike gravity, which is a time-invariable constant force, as a new process begins to be followed, the amount of attention or energy needed to keep it on track usually diminishes.  Eventually, it may become institutionalized and require only minimal amount of external attention or energy to sustain its momentum.

That continuous external attention can easily take the form of metrics reviews.  Chapter 2.06 discusses the importance of metrics as captured in Principle Five: Make Measurable Improvements in All Aspects of the Business.  The concept is simple; the mere act of measuring (metrics) causes improvement by raising awareness.  Awareness, in turn, stimulates attention and actions.

When any new change is planned, clearly stating the expected results needs to be communicated to everyone involved.  Along with setting expectations, milestones in terms of time or definitive results, should also be specified.  From time to time, the change initiator needs to re-engage (pay attention) to determine if the change is meeting its objectives.  The energy to make minor course corrections along the way will be far less than the energy required to retrench and undo damage later.  As a word of caution, changes should not be initiated if follow-up attention and energy cannot be applied.  Not only is change constant but it requires constant attention.


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