The Matrix of Change

sign-94966_640It’s often said that “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” In many ways, this appears to be the case. Change is all around us. And whether it’s technological, social, economic, political, or otherwise, the volume of speed at which change takes place is constantly on the rise.

Even when it’s good for them, people tend to resist change – not because they don’t want things to be better, but because it takes energy to change. It’s not change itself we fight, but transition; the act of moving from one state to another. That’s where the energy is required. So we balk at those changes that we perceive will take the most out of us.
I believe there are two factors behind the impulse to change. The degree to which they impact the status quo determines how strongly the desire to change manifests itself.

The first factor is the performance of a current process. Another phrase you may be familiar with, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” comes to mind. If the existing course of action is producing the desired result, then it’s difficult to justify changing it. The more “broken” a process appears to be, however, the more change becomes necessary.

The second factor is the acceptance of the current process by the people affected by it. If people are comfortable with the status quo, then it will be difficult to affect a change in their behavior. The more accepted a process is, the more difficult it is to get people to change – regardless of the process’ performance.

Based on the interplay of these two factors, I suggest that there are four types of change. Understanding these types can help us identify how strongly a change needs to be made as well as potential barriers we may face in implementing a change.

Critical Change
Changes made to functions low in performance and low in acceptance are considered critical. Not only is the desired result not being achieved, but the current process is not being accepted by those affected by it. When both performance and acceptance are low, something needs to change quickly.

Functional Change
Changes made to functions low in performance and high in acceptance are considered functional. While the desired result is not being achieved, people are comfortable with things the way they are. Changing things up may be necessary, but resistance can be anticipated due to the comfort level people have with the status quo.


Preferential Change
Changes made to functions low in acceptance and high in performance are deemed preferential. Even though results are being achieved through this current process, those involved in it may have reservations about it. They may perceive it as too difficult or time consuming. Change may be required in order to maintain employee engagement.

Arbitrary Change
Finally, changes made to functions high in both performance and acceptance may be considered arbitrary. No good reason for the change is apparent and potentially high levels of resistance can be expected.

How a proposed change is categorized depends on your perspective. We are human beings, after all, and our individual beliefs, goals, and preferences come into play when evaluating the need to change. For example, your wife may decide it’s time to paint the living room. She sees it as a preferential change as she has simply become bored with the color. For you, though, this may be perceived as an arbitrary change. The paint is in acceptable shape and you are perfectly happy with the existing color scheme. With differences of opinion such as this, conflict over the potential change can be expected.

When considering any change, it is important to take individual perspectives into account. Few of us like being subject to decisions affecting our lives if we see them as arbitrary. Communication and even compromise become important considerations in navigating change.

Change may indeed be the only constant. There is no progress without it. But how we – and others – view any given potential change has huge implications for effectively implementing it. Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll explore some of the specific reasons people have for resisting change and how we can work together to make change easier to implement and assimilate.

Consider a recent change you have been asked to make. How has your perception of the change impacted your reaction to it? What could have been done differently to make the transition easier?


When do you find change most difficult? Share your thoughts on our facebook page.