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.

Why Poor Communications are Your Fault

As a contractor for more than 25 years, I have certainly had my share of problems with customers. It would be easy to put the blame on the customer for these problems. But the fact is, many times (if not most of the time) the fault lies with me (or someone in my company). Simply blaming the customer does nothing to address the ultimate cause of the problem.

The vast majority of problems between customers and contractors result from poor communications. Frequently, the result is unrealized expectations on the part of one or both parties. For example, the contractor may expect the customer to remove all small items from a room, but when he arrives at the job, he discovers that the customer expects the contractor to remove everything. Neither expressed his expectations and both wind up frustrated.

I put the onus for good communications on the contractor. We know what the typical problems are, and we can take steps to avoid those problems through good communications. Over the past 3 years, I have increasingly seen these problems from the customer’s side of the equation.

Since late 2009, I have been investing in real estate. During that time, I have hired and dealt with about a dozen different contractors–both GCs and trade specific. This has allowed me to view the contractor/customer relationship from a new perspective. And, nearly every problem that I have experienced has been the result of poor communications.

The contractor that I am using on a current rehab serves as an example. He has called no less than a dozen times asking about colors, hardware finishes, the type of tile, etc. Virtually every time, his call has come while he is at the store or on his way to pick up materials. This puts me in the position of making a quick decision, something that I have refused to do several times. The result is frustration on the part of one or both of us, delays in the job, and similar problems.

This type of situation can be easily avoided by anticipating when choices need to be made and communicating that fact ahead of time. Indeed, with few exceptions, these issues can be addressed before the job even begins.

As a contractor, I won’t start a job until the customer has selected colors. I don’t want to put myself in the position of idle time while a customer makes such decisions. And I don’t want to put the customer in the position of making a rapid decision.

As a customer, I don’t want to delay my contractor. Nor do I want to be put in the position of making rapid decisions.

In both instances, I put the onus on the contractor. As a contractor, I know what information I need from the customer and when I need it. As a customer, I expect my contractor to similarly anticipate his needs.

Most communications problems can be avoided
through systems. Systems provide specific steps for obtaining and imparting information. Forms and checklists can be used to ensure that the steps are followed and the relevant information properly recorded. As an example, we require the customer to submit paint colors prior to starting the job, and we record the information on the work order for the job.

When we experience a problem or frustration, we should ask ourselves one simple question: what can I do to avoid this problem in the future? Systems provide the means to improve our communications, to the mutual benefit of both the contractor and the customer.


A Different Model for Paint Contracting

I’ve often heard it said that there are two types of painting contractors—those who focus on the technical side and those who are more oriented towards marketing and sales. Of course, a successful business requires the proper combination of both.

For the contractor who enjoys painting, sales and marketing are a “necessary evil.” He recognizes that, without some level of marketing and sales, he simply won’t have the opportunity to paint. For the contractor who is more inclined towards marketing and sales, production issues can be a constant headache.

Fortunately, there is an alternative to the traditional contracting business that allows each type of contractor to focus on what he enjoys. Indeed, I did this for several years, and it proved to be a win-win for all involved.

In the model that I followed, I offered a sales and marketing service for other painting contractors. They retained ownership of their company and were responsible for all production. I simply helped them with marketing, and then did all of the estimating for them. I received a commission for all jobs sold.

For my clients, they didn’t have to spend a large part of their day (or evenings) giving estimates. They could stay on the job and focus on production. They became more efficient. For me, I didn’t have to worry about production issues. I sold the job and then turned it over to them.

I won’t claim that this wasn’t without some problems. First, I spent an incredible amount of time on the road. My clients were servicing a large part of Houston, so I was giving estimates over an area of more than 1,000 square miles. That began to take a toll on me. Second, my clients were sometimes reluctant to do the marketing necessary to generate leads. Because of this, it was sometimes difficult to keep them with the backlog of work that they wanted. Of course, these issues can certainly be overcome.

Some might think it odd, and perhaps even damaging to one’s business, to work with competitors. While I still had my own contracting business, our service areas overlapped very little. In fact, I often received requests for estimates that were outside of my service area, but I was able to sell these jobs for another contractor who did service that area. So I was able to earn a sales commission and the contractor wound up with a job he otherwise wouldn’t have even bid on.

There are certainly variations to this model, but the important point is to create a win-win situation. And this is true whether you are the technician or the salesman.

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