How come change is so hard?

February 1, 2015

Thomas D. Davidow, Ed.D.

Changing behavior takes time. It's always an uphill struggle even when we know that our behaviors are not healthy for us.

Why do we resist changing our "dysfunctional" behaviors? The reason is that those behaviors perform a function for us. They work in some perverse way. They are designed to protect us from feelings and/or issues that are uncomfortable for us to deal with. We respond to those uncomfortable feelings in a variety of ways/behaviors that help us mask/hide/deny/avoid them. In other words, those feelings create pain; and we develop systems that help us avoid that pain. The more uncomfortable those feelings make us the more exaggerated our dysfunctional behaviors become. If we are asked to change those behaviors, we run the risk of having to address or experience the pain. And so we resist change.

What is true for individuals is also true for systems, specifically family systems and business systems. Everything I described above regarding an individual's resistance to change also explains why it is so difficult for change to occur in family businesses. In a recent article by Russ Prince in the Forbes Advisor, he quoted research done by Price Waterhouse that indicates that only 25% of family owned businesses have a documented succession plan. In the family businesses without a succession plan, there are at least three areas of resistance:  the individual, the family and the business. In order to change the business, you need to address the family and vice versa.

The first step is to take the risk of allowing yourself to acknowledge your own discomfort. The next step is to acknowledge that there is tension and discomfort in the family. The step after that is to see how those two realities are affecting the overall performance of the business.

These situations do not get any better when left alone. They only get worse. Sometimes the impact of the situation can lead the family and the business to a point of no return. We are all aware of the statistic that one in three family businesses succeed into the second generation and that one in ten get to the third. Those that survived were able to overcome and adapt/change. You can, too.