why is change hardChange. When you hear that word, what is your reaction? For some, it’s excitement and exhilaration. Others break into a cold sweat and suffer heart palpitations. Many of us fall somewhere in the middle. Whether we like it or not, we live in a world that constantly shifts and innovates (i.e. changes). This launches a 4-part series on change – why it’s hard, how to do it, how to manage it, and why it’s worth the effort to endure.

Whether you love it or hate it, change is hard, especially when it involves teams and systems and processes that have long been established and are comfortable from start to finish. At ELIAS Animal Health, we understand how difficult it can be to implement change. Our process to treat canine cancer varies dramatically from the treatment that has held steady for the past 20 years. Our ground-breaking immunotherapy requires veterinarians and their teams to exact change, which isn’t easy.

We acquire muscle memory for the recurring patterns of life. Muscles learn motor skills and our brains memorize those skills. We don’t think about riding a bike once we’ve mastered the skill or reaching for the coffee can in the same spot on the shelf each morning. Move the can, however, and your brain will cry out for a coffee fix when your hand doesn’t automatically make contact!

It’s the same in business. We follow learned patterns all day: typing, texting, following steps to assemble a product…much of what we do is almost automatic – it’s muscle memory. The same is true with business processes and systems.

The veterinary hospitals that treat dogs with cancer have developed efficient processes – conduct a blood test, administer chemo, blood test, chemo. It’s a well-established process that most clinics have down to a science. Their teams operate pretty darn close to muscle memory, and there is hard data collected over many years that predicts results.

What happens, then, when a new product (or in our case, therapy) hits the market? Businesses are faced with a dilemma – do they keep the well-oiled machine moving, trusting the tried and true approaches that are backed by research and hard data? Sometimes, that’s the best course of action. Changing paths to simply follow the shiny (remember Dory from Finding Nemo?), that brand-new “next best thing,” doesn’t always lead to better results.

However, if we never change, stagnancy can ensue. Imagine where we’d be if Steve Jobs didn’t work toward his dream that we can hold a computer in our palm or if Henry Ford dismissed the idea of the assembly line. Poet and writer Maya Angelou once said, “Without change, there would be no butterflies.”

As a leader, it’s my job to evaluate our corporate goals and then drive us toward them. Embracing innovation, change, and a little shiny from time to time are part of that process. As you consider potential changes for your organization, Insperity suggests reflecting on the following:

  • How will this potential change affect the future?
  • Why is the change important?
  • What’s in it for your team/customers/clients?
  • How do you make the change?
  • How will you support the change?
  • Do your leaders know how to manage the change?

Change requires a passion for doing things differently (which often means there’s a better way of doing things / a better solution / an innovation that improves results or efficiencies, etc.), the creation of new processes and muscle memory for your team, and a decision to not only implement the change but commit to its success (or failure) by tracking results.

Yes, change is hard. I’ve found, however, that it is definitely worth the risk. Next week, I’ll dive into the process of change.