Implementing Change in Business – Understanding the J Curve

Many businesses striving to make a change abandon the effort early on because "the plan didn't work". The reality is, "the plan didn't work - yet".

Working with business owners, we observe many businesses seeking change and implementing an action plan, then terminating the plan early on in the effort. The reason these businesses striving to change abandon their plan is: the plan didn’t work.

The reality is that the plan didn’t work YET.

If you could use a horizontal line to demonstrate how well the effort is working, it often takes the form of the letter J. There is an initial decline period followed by an improvement period that concludes being much higher on the page than the original starting point.

Action plans are typically terminated at the bottom of the J.

The assumption is that the project isn’t working, things are worse instead of better and therefore the project is abandoned.

If everyone understood before implementing the change that the “J-Curve Effect” will take place, it would be possible to work through the initial decline and then enjoy the benefits of a successful project shortly thereafter.

An example

Let’s say a business owner would like to leave a construction crew unattended for a period of time in order to meet with potential customers. The business owner puts his best man in charge and leaves the crew under the control of the new supervisor. If there is a problem that comes up on the job, the new supervisor will do his best to deal with it. When the boss returns the new supervisor will report how things went. If the new supervisor’s decision wasn’t as good as the boss would have made, the boss now has a choice:

a)      Say, “This idea isn’t working; let’s forget the project and I will stay with the crew forever to deal with the problems my way.”

b)      Recognize the transition is residing at the bottom of the J-Curve. The initial supervisor training has not been perfect, but next time he will likely make a better decision. A little more experience and training will get him moving up the J-curve until the boss is comfortable leaving him in charge. Now the boss can do the sales calls during the day instead of on the weekends.

If you reflect on how you learned the skills you currently have, did your path follow the J-Curve?

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