Ye Cannae Change the Laws o’ Physics!

So what have dodgy sets and actors with their trouser legs tucked into their boots got to do with change?  Quite a lot actually.

Scottie was right and, although you might not think it, change follows the laws of physics.  This is why it often doesn’t work.  The villain in the piece is entropy and for those of you without a degree in physics I’ll explain.

Entropy is the term that describes how things tend to degrade and become less ordered.  Why food decays, buildings crumble and, ultimately why the universe will run down like a neglected clock. One of the best examples I can think of is knots.  Any piece of thread or rope is prone to tangles, just ask any fisherman or knitter.  Knots are highly ordered tangles and we can design a knot to have the properties we desire: to be secure, but able to be untied easily; one which we can tie one-handed; one which we can tie quickly. When tangles occur they don’t form a recognisable knot because there are infinitely more disordered knots than there are ordered knots.  Tying an ordered knot takes energy (those of you who have learnt to tie a bow tie will understand) and it always takes less energy to untie a knot than it does to tie one.  Conversely, it always takes more energy to untangle a rope than it does to tangle one.

Organisational change is something we do to make our organisation more ordered.  It goes without saying that implementing change takes energy, but I am constantly amazed at how often people fail to realise that it takes energy to maintain the changes once they have been implemented.  In fact I’d go as far as to say that it’s almost impossible to maintain a steady state and that the best you can do is to maintain a state of constant, gradual change – Kaizen.

So what’s the best way of keeping change on track? I’d suggest two strategies.  The first is what I call “paying attention”.  By this I mean making it obvious that you’re committed to the change process, by walking the shop, by commending good behaviour and by confronting bad behaviour.  The second is by making sure that your first line managers are totally on-board and by equipping them to answer all those difficult “why” questions that they will be asked.

Good luck, and don’t split too many infinitives!

Posted in Change, Lean