Earlier today I read a report featured in the USA Today weather blog(http://blogs.usatoday.com/weather/2009/03/deathwish-why.html) on why people ignore severe weather warnings. According to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report, this occurs due to “optimism bias” — “the belief that bad things happen only to other people.” They cite the presence of a number of barriers that deter people from “risk-adverse decisions”.
It’s an interesting concept… and one not restricted to weather warnings. Living in Vancouver, we are repeatedly reminded to prepare for “the big one” (an earthquake), but how many people and businesses have taken the necessary steps… not enough! Optimism bias — it won’t happen in my lifetime! I’m not so sure and I have taken steps to prepare – admittedly I still have more to do to complete my own plan.
Does optimism bias exist in change management? I contend it does. We all know our world is constantly changing and whether we are entrepreneurs, managers, employees, or just members of society, thinking things will be ok if we “stay the course”, “do what we’ve always done” has a similar effect as failing to prepare for a weather warning — things will change and you will get left behind, causing you to become inefficient, unprofitable or out of business.
The key to adapting to change successfully is to take some time to develop a clear plan. Planning may involve brainstorming options & ideas with others, educating yourself (or better yet keeping abreast whenever you can) about the changes in your field, technology, your target market etc. and what changes your competitors are making that could impact your business. Once you have this information you need to identify what actions you will implement and what your desired end result is. Your action plan should outline what you are going to do to achieve your goal. It may include learning new skills/up-grading your skills (or those of your employees) or hiring an external consultant. Establishing a clear communications plan is vital to ensure all key personnel who will be impacted by the changes you are planning are aware of what’s going to happen, who’s involved, why its happening and how it will occur. Start this communications plan right away and deal with the resistance you face in a sincere, transparent way. This approach will garner support and understanding, and it can add depth to your change initiatives.
Don’t let the optimism bias cause you to be left behind. Thinking that things will be ok isn’t enough! Instead, establish a regular business review, plan for changes, adjust as needed and be optimistic that your change action plan will help you take the necessary steps to be the success you wish to be. The current economic environment is a presenting each of us with a unique opportunity to revisit our current situation, create a plan and take the steps to move us forward.