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If you haven’t noticed, industries and the world at large are experiencing some pretty substantial changes as of late. Notably, innovation in artificial intelligence, massive shifts in the employment sector, and the continuing move toward sustainability have all impacted the way we run and grow our companies — and I am not just referring to the big guys. Even smaller organizations are modifying the definition of business as usual, as an unwillingness to do so could eventually threaten their very existence.
This isn’t just rhetoric. Refusal or resistance to change can be devastating to both businesses and individuals. Perhaps this is best illustrated by a cover story titled “Change or Die,” published by Fast Company magazine nearly 20 years ago. The article chronicled a 2004 IBM conference speech by Dr. Edward Miller, the CEO and Dean of Medicine at John Hopkins at the time.
It appears Miller shocked the audience when he shared just how many heart patients possess a destructive resistance to change. He claimed that of the nearly two million bypasses and angioplasties performed each year in the U.S., lives were rarely substantially prolonged. Miller said that half the bypasses were clogged again within a few years, and the angioplasties failed in as little as a few months. Why? He explained that even though the surgeries were traumatizing and expensive — and the stakes were extraordinarily high — many post-op heart patients simply refused to modify their unhealthy routines.
“If you look at people after coronary-artery bypass grafting two years later, 90% of them have not changed their lifestyle. And that’s been studied over and over and over again,” Miller said. “Even though they know they have a very bad disease and they know they should change their lifestyle, for whatever reason, they can’t.”
While Miller’s insight is jarring, it is honestly not surprising. Even in the most critical of circumstances, change can be very hard.
So what is the difference between those who are able to implement healthy, positive change in their lives and their businesses and those who can’t? The answer might surprise you.
Related: Why Employee Accountability is the Holy Grail of Every Successful Business
The real catalyst for change
Many people fear change. Or, at the very least, they fight it tooth and nail. According to renowned author and Harvard Business School Professor John P. Kotter, this resistance is generally due to one of four factors: a fear of losing something of value, a misunderstanding of the change and its implications, a belief that the change doesn’t make sense, or simply an overall low tolerance for change.
Kotter posed that the ability to adapt is not solely based on building a proper strategy, structure, culture or systems. Instead, he posed that successful change is more specifically based on focusing on and altering behavior. We all know this is not as simple as it sounds, but there is hope. You see, Kotter explained that the key to behavioral change — in yourself, your leadership team, and your organization — is to tie the desired outcome to each participant’s feelings. The concept is rather straightforward. Emotional support and connection foster transformative action in just about everybody.
Inspiring change in your business
Let’s talk about your business. Ultimately, successful change in your organization begins by properly framing an issue in a way that connects with you and your team and motivates you all on a psychological level. Your message of change needs to be positive. It needs to be inspiring, and it needs to resonate. When presented with the need for change, it is also essential that those involved are provided with an appropriate support structure. The likelihood of successful change increases exponentially when people are surrounded by constructive feedback, encouragement, and the comradery of others rather than simply mandated actions.
Related: 15 Strategies to Help Leaders Overcome Resistance to Change
The power of your peers
As an entrepreneur, your ability to change and adapt is arguably the single most important contributor to long-term success. Stagnant businesses simply can’t flourish, grow or (like those heart patients unwilling to modify their habits) survive. Ask yourself, how receptive are you to transformation in yourself, your processes, and your entire organization?
Now is the time to evolve as a business owner. Start with an unwavering desire for continuous improvement. The next step is finding that emotional connection and the people or groups who can support you on your journey of change. For business leaders, these relationships are often found outside of one’s own company in the form of peer advisory boards or mastermind groups. Peer advisory boards provide business owners with the requisite support and emotional connection that act as catalysts for forward progress and even innovation.
As the president and CEO of such an organization, I get to witness the transformative power of connection all the time. It is truly amazing to see what can happen between owners and executives who care about each other’s welfare and respect, support and elevate each other on their paths to transformation.