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.

When eating an elephant, two mouths are better than one

A few weeks ago I addressed the proper way to “eat an elephant” –one bite at a time. The first “bite” is identifying the cause of the problems and frustrations that create stress and consume your time. The second “bite” is identifying the actions that will create the results that you want.

As with eating an elephant, there can be many different options. Just as you might use different methods to cook the elephant, you might have to try different methods to find the best actions to get the desired results.

Too often contractors get locked into a “my way or the highway” mentality. While there is nothing wrong with having preferred ways of performing a task, there is usually more than one way to do that task and still get the desired results. For example, you can degloss a surface several different ways or use different sized brushes for cutting in. Getting locked into a single way of performing a task can often be a cause of frustration and stress.

In this regard, it is crucial to focus on the results rather than the method of getting there. You have a certain standard of quality that you demand, and you have a certain budget for the job. So long as those criteria are met, does it really matter how it is accomplished?

Certainly there are methods of performing a task that are more efficient, produce better results, or are somehow better. But “better” is contextual, and your employees are a part of that context. You may prefer a 3″ brush for cutting in, but if your employees can use a 2.5″ brush and get acceptable results, what do you accomplish by insisting that they use a 3″ brush?

Many of the frustrations and problems that contractors endure are a result of their own actions. They frequently want to dictate method and assume that the desired results will follow naturally. But that is putting the cart before the horse. And it can also lead to employees who do not perform efficiently, seem unmotivated, and do not achieve the desired results.

Let us say, for example, that your employee finds a 3″ brush uncomfortable to work with. He has difficulty controlling it, or thinks that it holds too much paint, or for whatever reason simply doesn’t like it. If you demand that he use a 3″ brush, rather than one he prefers, he will likely resent your demand. Add in a few other similar demands and suddenly your employee views you as unreasonable, and his performance will show it.

I certainly don’t mean to suggest that you should give employees carte blanche to do their work any way they prefer. But if you focus on results you can identify what matters and what doesn’t. And what matters is getting acceptable quality in an acceptable amount of time. If this can be accomplished with a toothbrush or a push broom is irrelevant.

The point of this is that involving employees is often the “missing link” when developing systems. Frequently a contractor will develop a procedure and then thrust in on his employees. They don’t necessarily understand or agree with it, with the result that they will feign acceptance and then continue as before. Trust me, I know this from experience.

If you want better results, involve your employees. After all, if you want to eat an elephant, two mouths are better than one.

Do you have a team?

A few years ago a family member started a new job and he lamented the fact that he is on a team of one. Even though he works for a very large corporation, he was working on an assignment by himself. And that assignment involved a topic with which he had little experience.

My immediate thought was that this is no different from the typical small business owner. Most of us likely started our business as a team of one, and most of us gave ourselves an assignment with which we had little experience–operating a business. This certainly was the case in my situation.

When I started my business, I assumed that common sense and hard work would be sufficient to address the issues that would come up. While both are important, and certainly help, they simply are not sufficient. The result was a continual process of trial and error, which was often costly, stressful, and inefficient.

On occasion I would solicit input from family or friends regarding specific issues. While their advice was often very helpful, they didn’t understand enough about my industry to provide the kind of assistance I sometimes needed. So I continued to plod along, making slow but gradual progress (with occasional pauses to pull out large tufts of hair).

The Internet certainly helped change this. With the advent of chatrooms and forums, I suddenly had access to hundreds of other people who had “been there, done that.” I was no longer dependent on trial and error.

Of course, the quality of the advice offered on the Internet varies considerably. As I identified those individuals or organizations that offered sound advice, I slowly began to include them on my “team.” In addition, I was better able to communicate my vision to my employees and subcontractors. This too improved the quality of my team.

Every painting contractor should have a team, even if he is a one-man shop. Obviously a smaller business will have a smaller team, but getting quality advice and input is important no matter the size of a company. Even a one-man shop will have need for occasional advice concerning legal, accounting, marketing, or other issues. Having competent professionals available–professionals who have some understanding of your industry–can help avoid costly mistakes.

Your team can also consist of others in your industry. While a direct competitor will not be likely to share as much information, general discussions can be beneficial. If you are in a large market, there are likely many in your industry who are not direct competitors.

Running a small business can be a lonely endeavor at times. There are many ups and downs, many issues that must be addressed, and many options. Building a team can be an effective way to avoid the problems of trial and error, and build a better business.

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