Guest AuthorRaja Jamalamadaka

How to overcome inertia and usher in lasting change ?

By | Raja Jamalamadaka | Country Head – Roche Digital Center (GCC) | Board Director | Industry Public speaker | Neurosciences Thought Leader | LinkedIn Influencer | Marshall Goldsmith awardee | Harvard

What keeps CEO’s awake at night? According to PWC report, speed of technological change and availability of key skills rank near the top.  Scratch the surface and you realize it isn’t change per se but the CEO’s uncertainty of whether their organizations can keep pace with the change that bothers them. The real challenge now appears familiar- organization and people “change”.  

These worries aren’t unfounded – Research indicates that 70% of all organization changes fail and an astounding 75% of those failures are linked to human resistance to change. And with Artificial Intelligence and robotic automation knocking on the doors, change is more important than ever.

Despite the best management techniques, why does one of the management world’s most primitive challenge – changing people and organization – continue to stubbornly resist a fix?

Clues from the world of medicine

Meanwhile, the world of medicine is facing another change management problem. With billions of dollars spent in inventing top medicines, the medical world continues to be baffled at the unexpected efficacy of low to no-cost placebos in bringing change.


A placebo is a medicine or procedure prescribed for the psychological benefit to the patient rather than for any physiological effect. Do they work?

Give people a sugar pill, they have shown, and those patients — especially if they have one of the chronic, stress-related conditions that register the strongest placebo effects and if the treatment is delivered by someone in whom they have confidence — will improve. Tell someone a normal milkshake is a diet beverage, and his gut will respond as if the drink were low fat. Wake a patient from surgery and tell him you’ve done an arthroscopic repair, and his knee gets better even if all you did was knock him out and put a couple of incisions in his skin. Give a drug a fancy name, and it works better than if you don’t.

How can these placebos, whose medical formulation cannot theoretically explain their effectiveness-  bring such a lasting change?

The dichotomy

The challenges on the management world and medical world appear contrasting –

1.      The management world – for whom bringing change is a crucial goal – finds it challenging to usher a change despite the usage of the proven techniques

2.      The medical world – for whom bringing change is an equally crucial goal – struggles to understand how an unproven placebo brings about a successful change.

Hidden in this apparent contradiction are approaches that the management world can learn from the medical world. The key is to learn how placebos work.  

Four conditions for placebos (and change management) to work

 1.      Person should accept the need for change – Unless a person wants to change her state, placebos won’t work. Medical professionals do a stellar job of communicating the disease state and the attendant complications with utmost clarity. As a result, patients are fully aware about their state AND want to change. There is almost no question of resistance.

Because most changes in the business world are gradual, the masses in an organization aren’t inconvenienced enough to see a need for change. Worse, leaders tasked with delivering the message of change are hardly able to create the positive “unease” with present situation that will lead people to question their assumptions – and embrace change. Throw jargon and management theories in and the confused audience recedes to their shell even more. This is at the root of most failures in organization and individual changes.

A well-thought through, periodic communication strategy that breaks individual and organization inertia is at the foundation of a successful change management exercise.

2.      Person should trust the agent administering change – Regardless of how bothered people are, they WONT do anything (leave alone take a placebo) from someone they DON’T trust fully. Thankfully, the medical profession hasn’t lost the trust of its clients.

With plunging trust levels of leaders in the business world, people in organizations DON’T embrace change – even if they are fully aware that they need to make changes. It isn’t the change per se, but the lack of trust in change agents that is the failure point.

Leaders need to gain trust BEFORE embarking on any organization change. Humans run on emotions – of which trust is one of the most powerful.

The logic of fancy change management strategies and buzzwords appeals only after the emotion of trust has established its foundation.

3.      Person administering the change should handle the situation with empathy – A placebo will be effective even if patients are made fully aware that they aren’t taking a medicine – IF that message is delivered with warmth and close attention. These positive emotions melt the strongest resistance and fear.  

Cut to the management world where those that display emotions are considered weak sissies. Forget warmth or affection, most leaders tasked with change management programs resort to a concoction of ruthlessness, fear and threats (of job losses) to instigate the already worried people to change.

Relating to the audience that is expected to change and using the right mix of positive emotions like empathy, care and affection with tougher emotions of unease with situation will go a long way ensuring success of change management programs.

4.      People undergoing change should believe they are progressing – The medical world has done a stellar job of designing devices that track and SHOW progress periodically. The dose of motivation that such periodic progress delivers keeps the patient on the path of progress, despite the obvious inconveniences involved.

In the business world, leaders rarely speak about progress. With no positive reaffirmation, the journey progressively appears worthless – sounding a death knell of change-management efforts.

Constant status communication, celebrating small successes and rewarding/recognizing change agents goes a long way in sustaining momentum.

Placebos show that it is this effectiveness of delivery – not just techniques – of change management that brings lasting change in individuals and organizations. To improve effectiveness, leaders need to first change themselves realizing that humans are emotional creatures. Addressing the emotional context FIRST – by building trust, demonstrating  empathy and communicating in relatable way –  is vital. As leaders look to ushering in change in organizations, they would do well to remember Rumi’s quote –

Rumi Quote

I would love to hear your views on the article. Please leave your comments in the box below.

Republished with permission and originally published at 

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