Much has been written on why so many change initiatives fail. Failure of change initiatives is
true at the organizational, team and individual level. Over the course of our careers as
executive coaches and leadership development consultants, we have worked with thousands of different leaders and leadership teams. Looking back on all of our different engagements, one element stands out that separates those efforts where meaningful change and transformation occurred and those where it didn’t – Commitment!
Why is commitment so critical? As human beings we typically don’t like change. Thousands of years ago as we walked the Earth, we were not the apex predators we are today. What allowed us to survive and thrive was establishing routines and structures that brought predictability to an otherwise chaotic and uncertain world. It’s no surprise that today we still have a deep- rooted need for certainty. Even though we have elevated our status on the food chain, our world has become exponentially more complex with change being the only constant. That’s why when we are confronted with change, our instinct to cling to the safety of the status quo goes into overdrive. Uncertain of what will be, we hold on to what is with an iron grip.
When we are confronted with change, whether its organizational or personal change, most of us go through the following calculation in our heads:
- If cost of change ≥ cost of status quo then don’t change
- if cost of change ≤ cost of status quo then change
The cost of change will be different depending on who will be impacted as well as the nature of the change itself. We believe that there are 2 key components to what this means for most of us. At a surface level this is the effort required to make or implement the change. All of us are navigating lives that are filled to the brim with a gazillion different priorities. The thought of having to exert more energy when our reserves are already depleted is daunting at best. So it’s natural that we assess whether expending more of this energy is truly necessary.
Change often requires that we let go of a part of ourselves.
Exploring this at a deeper level, the root of all resistance to change, is our old friend the Ego or Fear. Our egos exist to protect the one thing that defines us – our identity. Change often requires that we let go of a part of ourselves. To some degree we must let go of who we used to be to make room for who we need to become. This truism is precisely the reason why commitment is so important. Commitment is the fuel we all need to persevere through any type of change.
To commit fully to anything, we have to deeply connect with the ‘WHY’ behind it. If that ‘WHY’ doesn’t resonate, particularly in the case of change, then it will be all too easy to abandon our commitment at the first sign of adversity. It’s critical to establish the case for change by asking yourself the following questions:
- Why is the change important to me?
- What will be possible if I make this change?
- What will it feel like when I make the change?
- What would happen if I don’t make the change? What would be at risk?
It is only by intentionally reflecting on these questions, that we can determine if our
commitment is worth making. Whatever the decision we make, asking these questions
empowers us to choose the path that will best serve us or the organization and teams we lead. Once the case for change has been established, to further solidify the commitment, it is important that you determine what the change means for you – the ‘WHAT’ of the change. The scariest part of change is not knowing how it will impact you. Instead of waiting for the change to happen to you, be part of defining what it will look like for you. Define your own path by figuring out what steps you need to take to get from who you are today to who you need to become. This will help you define the ‘HOW’ of the change.
Establishing and internalizing the ‘WHY’, the ‘WHAT’ and the ‘HOW’ of the change, will further solidify your commitment. It will provide you with the ultimate mechanism to prioritize what actions you need to take. We live in a world dominated by busyness and as such we need to determine what is most important and what isn’t – what actions are in service of your commitment and what are not.