As the 2010 mid-term elections approach, the Tea Party movement has created a big political buzz. Having scored several unexpected upsets in various state elections and primaries, the rally cry of "throw the bums out" has become the catchphrase of the day. Tired of what they perceive as a failure of either Democrats or Republicans to represent their interests, those who embrace the movement are looking for a change in the way the U.S. government is run.
I won't take a stand for or against the movement itself (my friends tell me I am frustratingly apolitical). But even if all of the Tea Party candidates currently running win their respective races, my prediction is that we will not see much real change. My doubt is not born of any political savvy or insight; rather, it comes from being a business coach, consultant and lifelong student of change.
For the most part, change efforts fail, and there are at least three major reasons why.
1. Differing definitions
Perhaps the biggest reason is that the word itself means different things to different people. 'Change' is a single word that people use to represent a complex image or idea. You and I may well agree that we want things to be different from the way they are now, but what I want and what you want can be vastly different. We may both get excited and vocal about our agreement that 'things need to change'. But when we delve deeper into exactly what each of us wants, excited agreement can easily turn into heated argument.
In addition, each Perceptual Style has a different definition and approach to change. For example, those with the Vision Perceptual Style initiate change because they see the potential for improvement, and will improvise as they go, shifting priorities and focus as details emerge. This can prove frustrating or unacceptable to those with a different Perceptual Style, such as Adjustments. The Adjustments Style prefers to evaluate impacts on existing processes and systems and selectively implement changes in a measured manner, in order to mitigate disruptive impact.
Each of the six different Perceptual Styles has a different approach to change, based on the way they see the world. So even if we agree on what needs to be changed and how it needs changing, we are still likely to disagree on the speed of, means of, and acceptable costs to implementation.
2. Failure to take interconnectedness into account
Creating a slogan (e.g., 'throw the bums out') provides a simple and compelling idea for change and appeals to the dissatisfaction that many have with the status quo, but translating a slogan into real, long-lasting changes is a daunting task. The ripple effects that spread out from change efforts that are not fully thought-through can easily end with bigger problems than you had when you began-or they can pile up on each other, so that their sheer number and size can stifle or crush the original, sought-after changes.
3. Failure to appreciate the sheer size of the problem
Finally, change efforts fail because the implementer of change doesn't appreciate the complexity and sheer size of the problem they seek to tackle.
In the 1980 presidential election, one of the promises Reagan made was that he would decrease the size of government by getting rid of the bureaucracy. Once in office, Reagan discovered that implementing his promise was not as easy as he might have thought, as the Washington bureaucracy was, by its nature, non-centralized and unresponsive. All 'it' had to do was delay and wait the President out for either four or eight years. In the end-
as one commentator put it-'big government won the battle.'
Reagan discovered, as do so many implementers of change, that rhetoric and excitement are not the same thing as effective action.
Pessimistic About Change?
You might conclude that I am pessimistic about change, but that is not the case. I am skeptical of any promises of rapid or easy change. Just as I have seen change efforts fail for the reasons listed above, I have seen change efforts succeed when all three are taken into account.
Whether you are a solo entrepreneur, run a small business or a large organization, it's important to realize that real, long-lasting change takes time. You must carefully consider and coordinate an approach to change that takes into account everyone involved, honors the interconnectedness of the system you're working with, and is prepared to deal with and size of the challenge.