Human behavior is always logical -- at least from the perspective of the person doing the behaving. Even when the logic is hard to discern. Even when the data informing that logic is flat-out wrong.
When human beings choose to release themselves from a commitment to change, whether in their personal or work lives, they are always acting rationally, drawing on the results of cold, often unconscious calculation of pain, pleasure and time. Simply put: I can forgo a cookie now in favor of two cookies later -- if I'm not too hungry and if I have a good sense of when "later" is.
In change management terms, the cookie I can get right now is the status quo, which is comfortable, if not optimal. The two cookies I can get later represent the end result of a change process. The cookie is pleasurable. Two cookies are more pleasurable. Depending on the cookies, maybe a lot more pleasurable.
So we always do what it takes to get that second cookie, right? After all, it's the logical thing to do.
Not always. Even if we know exactly what we have to do to get that second cookie, if we don't have a good sense of how long we'll have to do it, chances are good that we'll lose our resolve and grab that lonely cookie sitting in front of us right now. Back to the status quo we go.
And that behavior is perfectly logical. On one side of the scale, we have a pleasure with a known weight. On the other, we have a pain that grows with each passing minute.
Let's say that we're assured by those who know that the pain will never grow to outweigh the pleasure. But if the people in charge fail to define a change schedule, how can we be sure? For all we know, that pain will eventually tip the scale. Worse, because of sunk costs, management will tend to stay the course, ensuring even more pain.
This kind of time uncertainty -- not knowing when to expect your reward -- is a form of pain in itself. We discount every promised reward by our time uncertainty. A little uncertainty makes the reward a little less worth working for. A lot of uncertainty may cause us to jump ship altogether.
So, when we're communicating our change plans, it's important to not only sell the cookies but to also clearly communicate our schedule. However, it takes more than saying you expect to have made a change by some date in the future. To keep time uncertainty -- and, by extension, pain -- to a minimum, change planners should create intermediate milestones, even for relatively easy and quick changes.
To do anything other would be illogical.