This book starts out promisingly enough. Big storm. Trapped people. A bang. A scream. Lights go out. All this in a book about change management. Boy, the bodies are gonna start piling up for sure!

Alas, no bodies. Just a business fable.

I blame Patrick Lencioni for the rise of puerile business fables. And this starts out as a fine example of the genre. There’s the wise, seasoned practitioner role (why are these characters always tall and always men?) and there are the troubled but passionate professionals, about whom we find out far too much. There are detailed descriptions or sandwiches too. All of which serves to introduce the topic of why 68 percent of corporate change initiatives fail.

Ok. I’ll play along. It would seem, after dozens of tedious pages about rain, that change fails because organizationally we are not paying attention to managing the innate human resistance to it. People have a baked-in tendency to form attachments to other people (think Mummy) and objects ( think Mumm’s). Or is that a substance? Either way, the issue is that change or the threat of change or a really robust gossip mill, can trigger in all of us an atavistic dread of loss.

If we get nervous enough, we can end up with a rollicking case of anacritic depression. Yikes!

But mostly change brings on one of the following fun workplace conditions:

  • Anxiety
  • Frustration
  • Retardation of development
  • Rejection of environment
  • Refusal to participate
  • Withdrawal

And you thought that was your last holiday party planning meeting.

Now each of these symptoms of change resistance can be identified by signature behaviours. Like these:

  • Decreased morale
  • Decreased productivity
  • Decreased motivation
  • Increased conflict
  • Increased absenteeism
  • Increased turnover

Happily, Table 3 will tell you that anxiety requires leadership, training will help with frustration, individual coaching is the thing for decreased motivation and to fix conflict, you’ll want to communicate. Engagement will fix up that refusal to participate and a little monitoring should deal with your withdrawn staff.

Problem solved? Well not really because the authors really want to sell you their consulting services, which is why this book falls short. If 68 percent of change efforts fail, what does the other 32 percent look like? I’m a lot less interested in what it looks like when it goes wrong than in real-world examples of how it can go right.

And this is just where we go from over-written fable (still no bodies) straight to the other ditch full of scientists and studies and clinical evaluations and refutations and papers and speeches. In other words all the stuff that business fables are supposed to make digestible to the average marketer. Like this:

“Similary, Bowlby lists the following attachment behavious resulting form separation and/or loss: ‘…protest…despair…detached…’ (1973, 26). Elsewhere, he also lists ‘agitation…, crying, rejection of comforting gestures, and axienty at a level that may lead to panic…lethargy…reductions in the level of activity, and altered sleeping and eating behavior…detached…” (Ziefman and Hazan 2008, 443). and ‘…numbness, yearning and protest, disorganization and despair’ (Bretherton 1992, 13).

Numbness, yearning, protest, despair! I don’t know about you but that sounds a lot like my last performance review.

If you plow through you find the meat of the whole thing: we don’t fear change, we fear loss. The only way to get people past their real or perceived loss of objects, leaders,lucite, software, processes, traditions, blankets, or coveted seats by the window is to find a temporary substitution until the change is fully implemented. Kind of like giving the baby a fan belt to chew on after you toss the binky.

The way to know what you need to substitute is by hiring some experts to measure your disaster of a change initiative on the old LOE (loss of effectiveness) Index. In the hands of a skilled practitioner, this, and some qualitative interviews will tell you just how fu*cked is your cluster.

Good things about this book: it confirms a few things you’ve always known about your coworkers and puts up some good warning signs for your next big reorg. Bad things: it isn’t nice to read, and the only actionable thing in it is to call a consultant.

Personally, if I want to know what kind of misery lies ahead in Corporate Change Land, I refer to my dog-eared copy of Knoster’s chart. Then I have a little cry, put on my big girl hazmat suit and get on with it.