Mark Craemer 2 Comments

Change is the only constant in life, as the saying goes. And this paradox carries with it a monumental truth most of us are unwilling to embrace.

There’s good reason for this: Studies in personality development show that individuals are most open to new ideas and change in their 20s, but this continues to decline as we age. And the pattern apparently holds true across cultures.

Organizations also appear to go through a similar growth phase in that when they are just getting started and growing, they too are open to new ideas, new opportunities, new markets, etc. As they get older, however, they are slower to embrace new ideas as well as opportunities for change.

Many of these organizations become resistant to changing the status quo and then become stagnant. Moving from this stagnation requires helping people inside the organization feel the urgency to change by revealing a truth.

This is because people change what they do less because they are given analysis to shift their thinking than because they are shown a truth to influence their feelings, according to change management guru John Kotter as I referred to in an earlier post.

But just how do you go about revealing a truth that influences feelings?

To do so requires looking beyond quantitative data in spreadsheet analyses, visually engaging PowerPoint presentations, and newly minted vision statements with no connection to an organization’s values.

Recognizing stagnation often results when organizations complete a full analysis of quantitative data to reveal loss of market share, increased competition, lowered productivity and/or profitability, etc. Very few organizations, however, analyze the emotional side of stagnation and this is just as important in order to implement a successful change initiative.

Successful change requires focusing on employees’ emotions and behavior as much as it does on operational issues, according to Jeanie Daniel Duck, author of “The Change Monster: The Human Forces that Fuel or Foil Corporate Transformation & Change.”

To thoroughly understand the root cause of stagnation means conducting a complete analysis of internal and external qualitative data, says Duck. This qualitative data includes the emotions underlying the numbers because these feelings reveal what the culture both inside and outside the organization contribute to the stagnation.

Only when organizations recognize and diagnose the extent of the emotions rooted in the stagnation can they then focus on solutions to bring about lasting change.

Gathering this emotional data requires truly listening to people. Without getting defensive or trying to set the record straight, it’s important to fully understand the unique perspectives of employees, customers, suppliers and shareholders. This is especially hard for leaders who often know or think they know the organization for what it is.

But what leaders know or think they know doesn’t matter. Regardless of the leader’s perspective, it is the perception both internally among employees and externally among customers, suppliers and shareholders that matter here.

This is because one cannot correct misperceptions by simply denying or making a case against another’s perspective. To succeed, one must first understand this other perception of reality and measure how pervasive it is. Once that is determined, then you can figure out how to rectify it.

Stagnation is only the first of five dynamic phases in the Change Curve that Duck outlines in her book. This phase is vitally important because no change can begin without a thorough recognition and diagnosis of the stagnation in order to move forward.

The monumental truth regarding the constancy of change will be fully embraced only when we fully accept it in our hearts as well as our heads.


  1. Thanks for your good article but I cant read any solution way about stagnation problem. What do you think how can aged businesses protect stagnation themselves ? Which applications , human resources approaches can help us ?

    My organization ten years later have very attractive , creative and proactive employees. But after ten successfull working years , same employees cant produce any creative idea and most sorry thing they’re not willing to change anything.

    We have some motivational applications (rewarding ceremonies, motivational organizations etc.) but especially emotions of experiented employees couldnt be affected.

    • Thank you for writing, Alicia. It’s hard to know what to do during these economic times when the usual behaviors no longer produce the usual positive results. The stagnation I write about results when companies are no longer nimble and cannot keep changing with the market they serve. Employee engagement strategies that help them connect emotionally with the products and services they offer is a good place to start. I don’t know your company, but perhaps you could look at your organization’s values and see how relevant they are to your employees. Do they still resonate with them? Motivational applications can help, but I suspect there may be something below the surface that keeps them from engaging at a deeper level.

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