The Four Quadrants of Change

Change can provoke a mixture of emotions. It can fill us with excitement, and it can fill us with fear. It offers promise of a better future, and it carries with it the risk of uncertainty. It is not surprising that many people do not eagerly embrace change.

This can be particularly frustrating to business owners. We want to improve our business, and improvement means change. Yet, we cannot improve if our employees resist the necessary changes.

We often think that it will suffice to tell employees how beneficial the change will be. But the benefits of change are only one aspect that must be addressed. If we want employees to embrace change, we must address all four quadrants of change:

  1. The benefits of change
  2. The pain of change
  3. The benefits of the status quo
  4. The pain of the status quo

The failure to address all four quadrants is one of the biggest mistake that business owners make when trying to improve their business.

Consider a simple example: buying a new truck. The benefit of the change is a dependable vehicle. The pain the cost. The benefit of the status quo is the absence of a monthly payment. The pain of the status quo is the undependability and cost of maintenance.

If we don’t consider all of these, we may not make the best decision. If we only consider one of them, we are making a decision out of context. For example, if we look only at the benefit of the change, we are ignoring the cost. If we look only at the pain of the change, we are ignoring the cost of maintenance on our current truck.

The same applies to any change. This is particularly important when we want others to embrace change that we advocate. Further, we must address the four quadrants as they relate to others.

For example, we may think that a particular change will be good for the business. But how does that pertain to our employees? If we want them to embrace the change, then we must look at the pros and cons from their perspective. Only then can we effectively promote and implement change.

Imposing Change

If you are like me, you are constantly looking for ways to improve your business. If you are like me, you often come up with some change that you are convinced will make your business better. And if you are like me, you announce the change with great fanfare only to have it fall flat on its face it a short time.

It took me a long time to realize why this happened. Despite the best of intentions, I wasn’t eliminating frustrations. I was simply creating new ones by imposing change on people who didn’t want change.

Most people are resistant to change. As Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence, “all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.” We will often tolerate situations that we don’t like rather than take the risk of change.

The known is comfortable. The unknown is scary. We can learn to adapt to the known. The unknown presents us with uncertainty.

When we impose changes on our employees, we are forcing them into an uncomfortable situation. We are demanding that they accept uncertainty. No matter how valid and potentially beneficial the change, we will experience resistance to the change. We are frustrating our employees.

People resist change that they do not understand. But explaining the potential benefits does not necessarily give them understanding. That’s only one part of change. If we really want buy-in, then we must address all four quadrants of change.

  1. The benefits of change
  2. The pain of change
  3. The benefits of the status quo
  4. The pain of the status quo

The failure to address all four quadrants is one of the biggest mistakes that business owners make when trying to improve their business.