Are You Change Intolerant?

I don’t know why that family is smiling. In about one minute that kid is going to cry when he discovers his water gun is set to shoot into left field. By the time he gets it on target, the game will be over. Been there?

My daughter is learning to drive. She’s doing well, but at the beginning, the braking and acceleration are a little…erratic. She’s learning that the pedals are not on/off switches.

Have you ever tried to sign a document with your mouse? I bet the first attempt looked like your doctor’s signature. It would definitely not hold up in court.

Water guns, pedals, and signatures. The first experience is guaranteed to be off the mark. We realize that finesse is required. We need a steady hand (or foot). Calibration is required. After a few tries, our awkward attempts begin to hone in on the goal.

Now check out the language we use with projects:

  • Target
  • “Flip the switch”
  • Goal line
  • Transition day
  • Go-live

There is a lot of focus on a single date as the culmination of success. Words reflect an on/off mentality, but that’s not how people adapt. We don’t achieve success in one swing. Failure helps the process. Learning what doesn’t work is as important as learning what does.

My first projects were in the manufacturing sector where I learned about tolerances. Machines aren’t perfect. Giant presses that punch out metal parts are expected to produce items that are as close to the design as possible, within limits. Measuring all of the parts demonstrates that there are small variances, but they exist within an expected range (fractions of a millimeter). Tuning the machine improves it.

Change is a process of calibration. We first discover the target (the upper limit) and find that we are well below the expected performance. First attempts are way off the mark, but we learn. We calibrate. We adapt.

The goal line may be clear on your project plan, but it’s a fuzzy marker in terms of performance.

Make it clear to your audience: Yes, there is a goal, but you won’t hit it on day one. Set the right expectations. Failure is expected. There are tolerances for learning. Let’s not have anyone crying on their first try at the water gun game!

Thoughtfully yours,
Jeff Skipper