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Formula for Change

I first came across this formula – D x V x F > R –  around 10 years ago when I was involved in rolling out a new performance management programme in a well known international hotel company…and it had a dramatic effect on how I approached change from then on.  Let me share it with you.

What often happens in organisations when a change programme is announced?  People do one of 3 things:

  • embrace it (usually the least favoured option!)
  • resist it (the majority vote goes here!)
  • ignore it (telling themselves it won’t happen)

Why is that?  Well, when faced with change, particularly one that is imposed rather than chosen, people’s self-defence mechanisms kick into play.  We are creatures of habit and get a great deal of comfort from being in familiar situations in which we feel in control and know what to do.

So, when change happens it throws that feeling of equilibrium up in the air!

It is true that change is a fact of life now and I expect that you have experienced some sort of change in the last 12 months.  Organisations are being forced to change in reaction to market forces, government pressure, global financial challenges and so on, and that is unlikely to stop in the next 12-24 months.

Therefore, the organisations that are likely to survive are the ones most adaptive to change.

Going back to my epiphany 10 years ago…I was part of the learning & development team rolling out a new performance management programme to hotels across Europe.  One of the fundamental challenges we had was getting people to buy-in to the change and adapt their behaviour to bring it in line with our aim of creating a more open, honest feedback culture.  No mean feat!

When I came across the Gleicher formula – D x V x F > R – some months later, I realised that we could perhaps have approached our change programme differently.

The Formula for Change was created by Richard Beckhard and David Gleicher and is called Gleicher’s Formula. This formula helps you to assess how likely it is that your change programme will succeed.

According to Beckhard and Gleicher, three factors must be present for meaningful organisational change to take place. These factors are:
D = Dissatisfaction with how things are now;
V = Vision of what is possible;
F = First, concrete steps that can be taken towards the vision;

If the product of these three factors is greater than
R = Resistance

then change is likely to succeed.

When we were rolling out our new performance management programme, we had the V and the F covered.  We had a clear vision of what we wanted performance discussions and appraisals to look like, the outcomes those would provide and the impact on the business.   Our programme covered the F – first steps – by inviting all managers to attend a training workshop on their role in the new programme, the behaviours we expected from them and the associated paperwork.

We thought that would be enough to get the buy-in we needed.  However, we did not fully consider how those managers felt about the existing programme (D) nor why they might resist the change (R).

Many of the managers were quite happy with the existing programme, it was familiar and they knew what was expected of them i.e. to make sure the paperwork was filled in correctly and handed to HR!  They saw the new programme as more work for them, more difficult and potentially challenging (after all we were asking them to give their teams open and honest feedback!).

We rolled the programme out and managers started using it, however, it took a lot of time and effort to reinforce why we had made the change and the benefit they personally would get from it so that they would commit to embracing the new programme and making it work.  So, it wasn’t that the change failed, it was more a case of realising that we could have done it differently/better.

If I had known about the Formula for Change prior to getting involved in that roll-out, I would have taken more time to:

  1. communicate the reasons for the change, why the existing programme was not working and why it needed to change now
  2. talk to the managers to find out what they (truly) thought of the programme and how they felt it could be improved
  3. present the vision from the manager’s point of view, talking about what they would get from this new approach
  4. enlist the support of champions from within the manager population to help us drive the change from inside
  5. be prepared for some resistance and have a strategy to deal with it.

I have since used the formula with approaching other organisational change that I have been involved with and I have even applied it to change in my personal life to help me decide whether to make the change or not.

How can knowing about the Formula for Change, make a difference to the way you and your organisation approach change?

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