The world around us is in a constant state of change. While change is an inevitable part of reality, it can come with a multitude of problems, particularly in the business world. A business plan that works perfectly now may be an utter failure a year from now. Therefore, it is imperative that businesses work their way ahead of the change or even be harbingers of the change itself. But how do you do that? To demonstrate the process, refer to Michael Beer’s “Leading Change” and The Music Man.
In “Leading Change,” Michael Beer describes a unique equation that illustrates the necessary components of leading change and how they interrelate with one another:
Amount of Change = (Dissatisfaction X Model X Process) > Cost of Change
Beer explains that change only happens if the level of dissatisfaction with the status quo, combined with a clear model and process for change, are sufficient to overcome the perceived costs of change (e.g., loss of power, loss of competence, etc.).
Now, how does The Music Man fit into this equation, you may ask? Meredith Wilson and Franklin Lacey’s musical Midwestern misadventure demonstrates the whole process quite simply through the antics of “Professor” Harold Hill.
A con man and traveling salesman, Hill rolls his way into the small town of River City, Iowa with a plan to scam the humble townsfolk. The first part of the plan deals with the first issue outlined in Beer’s equation: Dissatisfaction. In order to get the complacent townsfolk to listen to his proposal, Hill first goes about convincing them that the local pool hall is turning a number of their younger boys into juvenile delinquents. In doing so, he stirs up a sense of dissatisfaction amongst the populace. This first major distinction that he “creates” as part of his sales pitch alerts the people of the town to a potential problem in need of change. A change leader must be a salesman, and as any good salesman knows: where there’s dissatisfaction and need, there’s a sales opportunity.
The next part of Beer’s equation comes into play when Hill proposes his solution to the town’s newly apparent problem. Hill presents them with a grand vision (Model) of a local boys’ band that would be the pride and joy of the town. The town would gain a unique distinction while also dealing with the “problem” of what to do about the local boy delinquents. With the initial dissatisfaction in place, the “solution” that he sells them solves a problem and generates a benefit which comes across as being doubly appealing to the people of the town.
The Process itself is simple: the townsfolk need to give Hill their money so that he can order instruments and uniforms. Hill then promises them that he will be the one to teach the boys.
Costs of Change
Michael Beer also points out the importance of perceived Costs of Change. Professor Hill assesses these costs and, with the help of his friend who lives in the town, Marcellus Washburn, identifies influencers in the community who have either informal or formal power. He then either persuades them to become evangelists for him (e.g., the mayor’s wife, the piano teacher), or he distracts or deflects them (e.g., the mayor, the school board). Hill accomplishes this initiative so well that, even when he is unmasked, people in the town stand up for him.
Of course, being a conman, Hill really plans to leave as soon as he’s collected enough of the people’s money. However, despite the fact that Hill intends to walk away as the only one who would actually profit from this scheme, he personally has a price to pay in order to make his scheme work to its best effect. Hill needs to spend time getting to know some of the townsfolk in order to work his way around any skeptics. He ends up establishing very close bonds and connections with them. As a result, he later regrets his actions and stays in the town to make things right by actually following through on his promises. The boys’ band and his connection with the townspeople become more important to Hill than personal profit. He realizes that, in order to fulfill the vision, he himself will also have to change.
Even though most of this story involves a scam, it also demonstrates perfectly how a business can get ahead of change:
1. Discover and/or create dissatisfaction with the status quo
2. Develop and communicate a practical model that solves the problem or fills the need
3. Convey a process that meets the needs set forth in the proposed model
4. Assess the costs of change and develop strategies to address them, including allowing people to participate in planning for changes and letting them mourn their losses briefly before moving on
As Brien Palmer so aptly put it in his book Making Change Work, “Some change will always happen but not necessarily the change you want. It is far better to plan for and manage change systematically, rather than simply react to events as they occur”.
It’s also worth mentioning that some change costs just can’t be foreseen, so remain flexible and have a safety net.
Finally, as Ghandi, said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” As Professor Hill discovered, lasting change only happens when the change leader invests in it himself.