The “Parallel Costs” of Slow Change

SOURCE: Kay Sever | May 1, 2019

Executives and management teams are taught to think in timelines, especially when it comes to change!

We have all been told that change “just takes a long time”, that we should “expect slow progress” when we asked people to change, and that “sustaining change requires long timelines”. If we do not question what we have been taught to believe about change, we “accept” the frustration and cost of slow change. We take no action to accelerate change because we don’t believe it’s possible to accelerate change. We believe the speed of change is something we have to “manage around”, rather than “manage to achieve”.    

WHAT IF change takes a long time because…

  1.  That’s what we have been told to expect?
  2.  The cultural barriers that reside inside most every company were never removed?
  3.  Strategic steps were not taken to “trigger” urgency?
  4.  People are negotiating old barriers while trying to do something different?
  5.  Strategic steps have not been taken to sustain change?
  6.  The management system and team were overlooked as root causes for slow change?
  7.  We are not familiar with a system that enables (and sustains) fast change?

When I share new perspectives about change with groups, I share an analogy about auto racing, specifically the Indianapolis 500. I grew up in Indiana and have followed the race for decades. A few years ago, I was watching the race and became aware of a link between racing and change…

Once the green flag drops and the race starts, there are only three reasons why the Indy cars slow down or stop racing:

  1.  They need fuel, tires or have mechanical problems, so they pull into the pits.
  2.  They are in an accident and are eliminated from the race.
  3.  There is something on the track; the yellow flag drops and all the cars slow down while the obstacle is removed by a crew of people as quickly as possible so cars can resume racing speed.   

During the rest of the race, Indy car drivers go as fast as they can for 500 miles to try to win the race.

What if change could be like that?

When you manage production, you know the flow of material and the bottlenecks in your production process. If you want to increase production, you would not increase production where excess capacity already exists; instead, you would “elevate” the production bottleneck for increased flow. There would be no guessing… you would ask engineers to design a cost-effective reliable solution that helps you achieve and sustain your new production goals. The project team would give your project high priority because they understood the value (additional production, cost savings, higher income) at stake.

What if you recognized and understood the cost of barriers of change like you understand the cost of pinch-points in your production process? Would you make some different choices about change and perhaps not accept barriers to change as “normal” and “unremovable”?

Here are some negative financial and cultural impacts of leaving change barrier in place, resulting in slow change that creates unmeasured losses:

  1. When momentum drops and focus changes during a change initiative, projects move slower than you had hoped; some resources may even be redirected to other initiatives before the work is completed which means that financial benefits will be compromised/reduced.
  2. Some projects linked to large returns may stall and even be placed on the Dormant Project List.
  3. Dollars for some projects fail to reach the bottom line, even though the dollars are listed on the Project Report reviewed monthly by the management team. There is often a lack of understanding about the cause of these shortfalls.
  4. Parallel to these financial losses are cultural losses that are seldom considered. People may have high hopes for culture change if the workplace is full of mistrust, confusion and conflict.
  5. This kind of culture change is worth millions of future profit dollars, but because culture losses are seldom valued, the losses remain invisible and unmeasured. Slow change impedes the shift and may add to the mistrust, making this kind of culture shift even harder to achieve.
  6. When energy and urgency wains for change, it is difficult to raise people up to their original energy level that existed on the day the initiative was kicked off. Morale drops when urgency drops, which sends mixed messages to the workforce and negatively changes the culture.

So… you can see that there are “parallel costs” to slow change that simultaneously affect profit and culture. Every company has experienced these parallel costs, but seldom are they measured, recorded, discussed or recognized as avoidable! Why? Because management’s barriers to change are not understood!

It is important to realize that almost all barriers to change are caused by people, not equipment. Management has TOTAL CONTROL over these barriers, and removing them will yield more money and happier people. If you were building a race track, you would remove barriers that blocked the track route. If you were a race car owner or driver, you would want obstacles like tree limbs and traffic cones removed so you would have the best chance of winning. It only makes sense to think about change in your company in the same way so you have the BEST CHANCE OF WINNING!

Thought for the month: With a change in management thinking and focus, change can be like racing!


Kay Sever is a leading expert in reducing financial losses caused by corporate cultures, optimization and change barriers. She has developed a management training system called MiningOpportunity which is based on her 20 years of experience working with mines and plants to reduce the losses they never measure… losses linked to corporate culture, hidden excess capacity and change barriers. MiningOpportunity modules teach executives and management teams how to find and quantify their losses and apply strategies and tactics that stop them. Unique insights from Kay’s 3-year study of management’s barriers to change and optimization are included in the content. See for her contact information and several training options for your team, including the NEW “Spend a Day with Kay” option.

Kay Sever
Kay Sever Author
P.O. Box 337 Gilbert, AZ USA 85299-0337

Kay has worked side by side with corporate and production sites in a management/leadership/consulting role for 35+ years. She helps management teams improve performance, profit, culture and change, but does it in a way that connects people and the corporate culture to their hidden potential. Kay helps companies move “beyond improvement” to a state of “sustained optimization”. With her guidance and the MiningOpportunity system, management teams can measure the losses caused by weaknesses in their current culture, shift to a Loss Reduction Culture to reduce the losses, and “manage” the gains from the new culture as a second income stream.