All Changes Are Not Equal

Change can be hard, and people can be very resistant; this may be the one millionth time you have heard that. If your company is going from producing cars to producing cabinets, you are going to need some pretty major adjustments to your operations, and the local unions will probably be a little uptight about it. If your hotel chain has just been acquired by another chain, there will be changes to the reservation system and changes to your career opportunities, and both of those can be confusing. But there are different kinds of change; they require different leadership and skills; and, they do not always have to be painful.

Evolutionary change is always happening. These involve changes in the way we you business, rather than changes in what business you do. See the difference? Very often, this is related to efficiency. HR policies change, maybe you merge a couple of teams, perhaps you get some new technology, perhaps you simply have a new manager come in who prefers PowerPoint presentations with a different layout. Essentially, you are doing the same things, you are just doing them differently.

Revolutionary change, on the other hand, occurs when some new operating environment emerges and the business you do actually changes. In many cases, you either adapt to this new reality or you go out of business. 25 years ago, a company that said “we produce VCRs” could either change its mission to “we produce DVD players,” or maybe “we produce devices that help viewers watch movies,” or it would see itself get left behind. With a revolutionary change you are not just making changes to your products or services, you are actually providing new products or services. When Uber started arranging for leases so people who didn’t have their own cars could become drivers, that was evolutionary; when Uber gets around to introducing driverless cars and removes drivers from the equation completely, that’s going to be a revolution. This kind of change often requires a whole new strategy, a new structure, and even a new culture for your firm.

It sounds like evolutionary change is simple while revolutionary change is complicated, but that does not mean evolutionary changes are easy. When we say “change is hard” we are not just talking about the revolutionary changes. The problem with evolutionary change is that, depending on your industry, it can seem like pretty much a constant thing, and that makes life difficult for your employees. If you do not know what is going to be expected of you tomorrow, if it feels like there is no consistency in the policies you follow or the way you work, it becomes difficult to look much beyond tomorrow. Consider that, if you are always in classes to train you on the newest, greatest thing, you will not be spending a lot of time actually doing the revenue-creating work.

It is important to recognize different types of change, the impact they can have on your work and on your employees, and the ways you can prepare for them. The kind of flexibility you need for the smaller, but more frequent changes, is different from what you need to retool your entire firm when what you do is not so relevant anymore. Your ability to deal with change depends in part on the type of change with which you are dealing, so learn to tell the difference and be prepared to respond accordingly.