Here is one baffling question managers regularly come up against: Do people want change, or don’t they? All too often, employees seem chronically unsatisfied in their jobs, forever complaining about standards and procedures. At the same time, improvement initiatives are frequently met with resistance or even hostility, leading to tension between employees and management. This is not only frustrating for everyone involved, it also has very real repercussions on business performance.
How is this even possible? How could this contradiction develop? Efrat Goldratt, daughter of Eliyahu M. Goldratt’s, asked herself these questions in the course of her Psychology studies and developed an interesting concept known as “Efrat’s Cloud”.
Welcoming or resisting change?
Efrat’s Cloud is based on the Evaporating Cloud, a tool from the Theory of Constraints that is very helpful for representing and analyzing conflicts: two seemingly contradictory prerequisites must be fulfilled at the same time in order to achieve a goal. The Evaporating Cloud perfectly illustrates how it is possible to both want and resist change in the workplace (as well as in other life situations). What are the needs underlying this conflict?
Satisfaction requires change
Efrat Goldratt defines satisfaction as the sense of achievement felt when you have reached a goal. A tedious, monotonous job is unlikely to bring you satisfaction: you will not feel challenged and probably think that your talents are wasted – in this environment, it is hard to be proud of a job done at the end of the work day.
Why is this? Because pride and a sense of achievement can only be felt if you were uncertain at the beginning that you would actually reach your goal. Try to think back on when you were last proud of something you achieved. It is likely to be something that cost you some effort or dedication.
Of course this is highly individual and depends on a person’s own abilities as well as their personality. An established endurance athlete will probably be less proud of a completed marathon than a novice. Some people may live off a particular achievement for a long time, while others are immediately driven to reach a next milestone.
Above all things, however, what is needed is an unfamiliar environment. In order to feel satisfaction, you must necessarily attempt something you have not achieved before. This is not possible without change.
Security requires reliability
The opposite holds true in the case of security. In order to feel secure, according to Efrat Goldratt, you need to know that you will be able to perform what is expected of you. Security is the absence of uncertainty: having an answer for any question that may arise.
Absolute certainty is of course an illusion. Even if you have walked a particular way a thousand times, you may fall into a manhole on the one thousand and first. In this sense, the “answers” you think you have a merely prognoses: this route is secure, provided no work is being done in the sewage system. In the workplace context this may be: this job is secure, provided there is no global economic collapse.
A person will only feel secure in a well-known environment where they have enough experience to be able to predict with some certainty what will happen next. In other words, the exact opposite of what they need to feel satisfied.
Requirements fulfilled = happiness
The above shows how both needs of the Evaporating Cloud can easily exist simultaneously. What, then, should an organization do in order to get employees on board with an improvement initiative? Recalling Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, you will remember that the need for security exists at a lower (therefore more fundamental) level than the need for satisfaction (or self-actualization).
It follows that the need for security must be fulfilled for a person to even consider striving for self-actualization. In other words: as long as the sense of security is maintained to the largest extent possible – that is, the employee feels they can control their environment and predict what will happen – they will be much more open to change. This can be achieved through transparent communication or appropriate training in order to remove the “unknowability” of the change.
You can raise additional support by giving employees an active role in the change and thus making use of their need for satisfaction. This way, the success of the improvement initiative becomes their own success: their sense of satisfaction increases. At the same time, control of the change remains at least partly in their hands, instead of being dictated from above. The result is a win-win for both sides!
Efrat Goldratt, Embracing Change Vs. Resistance to Change – The causes of the conflict (1995)