A Dentist Drills Down To The Root Of Successful Change

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Disclaimer: While the headline probably made your teeth hurt or dredged up some scarring memory in a dental chair, don't worry. This story is not painful.

I like my dentist. He is professional yet personable, thorough, and even has a sense of humor. The only thing I can "fault" him for is graduating from an institution that is a rival to my beloved NC State University. A past visit now brings me to add "person of wisdom" to his attributes.

On a previous visit to my dentist, I had been contemplating a dental procedure to correct some teeth misalignment. He had given me all the information, spelled out the pros and cons, and talked with me about the end result. It was now time to make a decision. When I gave him my reasons for saying "No" now, he quickly replied, "I understand. Until you have the time, desire, and money, you probably won't be willing to do the procedure.

When I gave him my reasons for saying "No" now, he quickly replied, "I understand. Until you have the time, desire, and money, you probably won't be willing to do the procedure."

His pithy comment about my willingness to change rattled me. As someone who worked as a senior trainer for the best-selling book, Who Moved My Cheese? I thought I had seen change management broken down into its most simple elements. Now here's my dentist describing the keys to successful change in three words: Time, Desire, and Money. Could it really be that simple? I did my own mental examination, and here's what I found:

Time

In today's workplace culture, most individuals and teams are so busy they spend much of their time just trying to maintain the status quo. If there's one thing we know about change, it requires people to have the mental and physical space to work and think differently. If change is introduced and managed as just "one more thing to do," is it any wonder most change initiatives fail. In fact, one of the most common complaints I hear from individuals being asked to change is, "What are they going to take off my plate so I can focus on this change?" So my dentist seems to be on the right track so far.

If there's one thing we know about change, it requires people to have the mental and physical space to work and think differently.

Desire

While some changes are imposed upon individuals (think recent GM layoff), there are changes made within organizations where there are numerous potential benefits to the individuals involved. Why is it that leaders and managers within these organizations often can't get people to see them? A key reason is that they haven't invested the time to communicate the change to individuals in ways that connect with what's important to them. If a team member thrives on problem solving, a discussion about change should highlight that aspect of the change. If another team member is motivated by collaboration, include how the change will offer more of those opportunities. My dentist is looking more brilliant all the time.

Money

When I first started thinking about this idea I thought I might have found a flaw in my dentist's wisdom. But then I asked myself, "What does money represent?" The answer was "Resources." And if I look at successful change relying on the right amount of resources, I see a world of possibilities. While a financial investment is often needed to make change successful, other resources needed could include:

  • Time

  • Training

  • Proof of concept/viability

  • Alignment with goals of team or organization

  • Collaboration

At this point I am contemplating hiring my dentist as an associate trainer in my organization. I'm just not sure he would go for the pay cut.

On a final note, I know that managing change within teams and organizations requires enormous planning and execution that go far beyond following the three words shared with me by my dentist. As I glance at one of the bookshelves in my office I see a row of at least 12 books with research, case studies, and methodologies all offering a way to foster and achieve success with change. And when I type "change management" into the search box on Amazon, I get 20 pages of results. There is still so much to learn about change.

I also firmly believe that it's the simple ideas and strategies that are often the most powerful ways to get people thinking or moving in a new direction, The words from my dentist are a quick way to determine why an individual or team may be resisting change. Once you have your answers... you can drill deeper to find the root of the problem. Okay I lied. That thought is painful.

Jones LoflinComment