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Jeanie Daniel Duck is the author of the wonderfully named book The Change Monster: The Human Forces that Fuel or Foil Corporate Transformation & Change. She is also a senior vice president of The Boston Consulting Group and has worked with companies and people around the world on major change efforts. As an artist and expert in change management, Duck brings a very unique perspective to the field of change. In this episode of Change Nation, she shares her insights into how people change.
Why is change so hard for people? Why is it that we don't just love change, especially when it's the number one constant in life?
My belief is that a lot of that has to do with a number of difficult factors, probably the most dominant being the question: “How am I going to do as a result of this change?” The reality is we all choose whether we are going to change or not, but sometimes we may not feel like we have a choice, so the choice is another issue. There is high demand, but low control. The third factor is visibility. We think, “If people are watching me, they will know if I have done well or not.” I think that these things play regardless of the context. We wonder, “What will I be like? What happens if I make it? What happens if I don’t make it? What will the consequence be?”
The title of your book is very intriguing. Where did the phrase "the change monster” originate?
I was talking with the publishers about it and, at one point, we said something like, “Change is a monster and a fit.” [During change] people can have a lot of anxiety. They are likely to wake up early. That is one of the physical symptoms. When depressed, you end up sleeping a lot, but anxiety is about waking up and worrying. If the person feels like they have to change, or they really want to make a major change, and they’re not sure how it will turn out, there is often a lot of anxiety. If, for example, I am a young woman, and I change my hair color every week, it’s no big deal. If I never change my hair color and I’m suddenly deciding I am going to do something flamboyant and I don’t know what the reaction is going to be, a lot of the anxiety comes from the fact that I actually care about the outcome and I don’t know what that outcome is going to be. And so that’s when change is anxiety-produced.
One of the tools that you so clearly describe in your book is the concept of the change curve. Can you walk us through that?
What I discovered 30 years ago was that regardless of where I was, if people were going through change, they sounded very similar, regardless of the context of the change. I started looking for patterns, and I found the pattern. I spent 30 years talking about it, using it around the world on behalf of my colleagues, so I am very comfortable that it is a real phenomenon. The first stage is stagnation, and that’s usually when somebody has a niggling idea that they need to change somehow. It could be anything from “I’ve got a reunion coming up and I want to look great, so I have to get in shape,” to “The company is loosing red ink and we’ve got to make a major change.” So there’s a sense that change is necessary.
Once the decision to make a change is made, then we move into preparation, which is: “How do I get ready? What do I need to think of? What are the steps I need to take? How do I know if it’s working or not working?” Then there’s the implementing of change. If we stick with the idea of the reunion, maybe I’ve decided I need to go on a diet, but which one? Do I need to buy certain foods? Do I need to purge my refrigerator? Then I decide to go ahead and do it. Implementation can take a long time or a short time depending on the complexity of the change. What typically happens is the initial excitement wears off and the difficulty of just sticking to it and making the change actually occur starts to get harder.
Then you hit what I call the determination phase, which is: “Am I going to stick with this and make it happen? Or am I going to hit the abort button and let the whole thing go?” Determination can come from external causes as well as internal. But it is the time, and it may happen repeatedly, where the decision to stick to the change initiative has to be made again and reconfirmed and then worked into the final stage, which, if you’re successful, is called fruition—when the change has worked.
In focusing on the first 30 days of making a change, have you seen in your 30-plus years of work that it makes a difference how people start off, what they do in those first weeks?
I think it does. You know, I’ve heard a lot about if you do it for 21 days, you’ve created a new habit. Well, unfortunately, I often am quite capable undoing a new habit. So for me, just 21 days doesn’t tend to be enough if it is a habit I am trying to change that has been long-standing.
So, I think who you talk to and the kind of help you get is really important. Years ago, I had a friend who was a therapist, and she had a client who was always saying, “I am such a loser, I have such a bad a life,” and all that. One day she got really disgusted with this gentleman, and she said, “Okay, we all know you’re a loser, but if you weren’t a complete loser, what would you do?” And he said, “Well, if I wasn’t a loser, I would do this, this and this.” She recognized then that he actually knew what to do, but that he was afraid to do it and didn’t see himself as enough of a winner to believe he would be capable. So she said, “For an hour a day, I want you to pretend that you’re not a loser.” That freed him to experiment with something different, rather than having to own a whole new persona that he wasn’t yet comfortable with. He kept experimenting with longer and longer periods of time until he finally realized that he actually had what it takes to succeed. He was able to own his own power, but he had to ease into it because it was such a different position for him. I think there are plenty of times in our lives when we are scared of something new or don’t feel quite prepared, and having the freedom to experiment with new behavior and try it on rather than having to own it totally outright can be a useful device.
What is the belief you personally go to during times of change?
I usually go back to a fundamental belief that existentially, I will be okay. And sometimes it really is existential as opposed to: “I am really going to come out of this thing feeling great.” It’s more that who I am as a being will be okay. The other thing I do is stop and ask myself why I want to do this thing, why I care and why I want to be involved. This is especially important for success.
The best thing about change is…
...you often get wonderfully surprised. And the surprises might be from yourself or from others.
What is the best change you have ever made?
I think the best change project that I was ever on was one where we did a huge transformation for Freightliner, where we changed almost every dimension of the company over about three years and succeeded. That was extremely satisfying. I came into Boston Consultancy Group as the first person who was hired as a partner, which probably won’t mean anything to your readers, but it was a signature event. I was the first specialist, the only person that could do numbers. I will have been a partner for 20 years, and I do feel confident in saying that I have helped change BCG fairly dramatically, so I feel good about that.
For more information on Jeanie Daniel Duck, visit www.bcg.com
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