How To “Unstuck” The Change

16 April

We all know examples when we want to change something, and it happens smoothly, almost by itself. Other times seemingly reasonable and desirable change doesn’t occur. How come? What conditions are necessary for a change to happen?

Let’s say you want to start working on your side project. And you decided that you will spend 3 hours on it in the evening for 4 days a week. How will you make that happen? Let’s consider one model and then see how it can be applied in this case.

In the 60s, David Gleicher came up with a model which was later popularized by organizational development scholar Richard Beckhard. This model became known as ‘The Change Formula’ or ‘The Change Equation’. It describes what the prerequisites are for a change. It allows us to systematically analyze a particular case and find what prevents that change from occurring.

After several revisions of the original notation, the formula now looks like:

D x V x F x S > R,

D – dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs
V – a vision of the desired state
F – clear first steps
S – sustainability of the change
R – resistance to change

What the formula says is that change happens when the product of dissatisfaction, vision, clear first steps, and sustainability is higher than the resistance to change. So when change is not happening it means that either the resistance is too strong or some of the factors are not sufficient to overcome the resistance.

Let’s consider each of the letters in the formula separately.

Resistance to change. Change is uncomfortable, it produces a certain amount of stress. To a different degree, there might be uncertainty, fear, or anxiety. They all push us back into the comfortable and known state. And this push needs to be offset by the other elements of The Change Formula.

Dissatisfaction. This element is about the motivation behind that change. There needs to be some dissatisfaction about the current state. Otherwise, there is no reason to change.

The most frequent issue with this element is when the envisioned change is not really meaningful. Such change doesn’t properly answer the question ‘why?’. An example of such a change can be to get a promotion just because it’s the next logical thing to do.

To address this issue, more exploration is needed. Why is this change required? For what bigger purpose? What value will this change bring?

The vision of the desired state. With this element, a clear picture of a new, changed state needs to be developed. It sets the direction for you. If the destination point is not specific enough, the change won’t happen.

Here, it is important to think about the specifics. SMART your change. How will the new, changed state specifically look? What will let you know that you’ve achieved the desired state? What are the criteria for success?

First steps. Why are these steps important? Because if you don’t have easy to implement steps on hand, you will need to specify them each time before you act on them. Thus you squander your momentum on analysis rather than using it on actions. It is easier to start eating healthy when healthy food is already in your fridge rather than on a shopping list.

Ideally, you should specify steps which you can take right away. They should be simple and within your reach. For example, if you need to cold call your potential clients but you don’t have the leads it’s is not an actionable step. The actionable step would be to research the leads.

So when you think about the actions which will fulfill your vision, think whether you can complete those actions right away or whether any preparation is needed?

Sustainability was added to The Change Formula much later, but it’s an important piece of the puzzle.

A change will often include overriding some old patterns. That, in turn, requires some time and repetition to build and reinforce new patterns. Will you be able to invest the required time for practicing? How will you sustain the motivation before you start seeing results?

You would need to think about the risks and be prepared for them. For example, what kind of cues can trigger the old pattern and what will you do in this case?

Additionally, more often than not, you need to think about other systems on which the change relies and how their influences can affect the possibility of the change. For example, a personal change can stall because of team or family influences. And once such detrimental influences are addressed one can start seeing progress.

Now, let’s return to our example of working on a side project and see how we can use the elements of The Change Formula:

1. Dissatisfaction. What is the reason you want to do this? What’s lacking in the current state? Maybe you are not happy with your 9-to-5 routine and see your side gig as an opportunity to gain financial freedom and quit your job. Or maybe you are frustrated with not learning new stuff at work and your project will be a sandbox to learn something new.

What is going to happen if you do not spend your free time on your side project? To answer this question, you need to think about the importance of this project for you. If nothing changes and that is still ok for you, there is a great chance that you are not motivated enough to persist.

2. Vision. The change – to allocate spare time to your side project – is a process goal. It’s easy to imagine how will it look. But it is also useful to think about the outcome goal – where do you want your efforts to lead you? What is the endgame and how will it look? What value will you be getting? Maybe you will get a new skill and will be able to switch to your dream job. If it is about financial freedom, what kind of lifestyle would you like to create with the help of this project?

3. First steps. How will you prepare for your work? For example, do you want to prepare your working desk at home, so that you can get down to work right after having dinner? How will you specify tasks for you to work on during these 3 hours? Maybe you can prepare the next day’s list of tasks when you finish for the day.

4. Sustainability. What can derail your efforts? What other demands for your time can distract you? Do you want to get buy-in from your wife? Do you want to let your friends know about the change in your schedule?

If you find yourself slacking, what are you going to do? Do you want to build a system with peer accountability, for example?

Having a systematic analysis will help you create conditions more conducive for your plan to come true. Also, you might find that thinking about one element changes your thinking about other elements and even the goal itself. It’s ok to go back and revisit them.

The Change Formula is a simple, yet powerful instrument. It gives an insight into why some changes happen others don’t. And from the practical point of view, it’s like a checklist you can use to ensure all the prerequisites for a change are covered. And it allows you, as you go along, to monitor whether all the elements function to bring the change closer.


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