Through electronic trading, international markets move in nano-seconds. Because of cyber-space, an email sails across the globe in no more than few minutes – often faster. Speed adds value. But social change – inside organizations and communities – requires weeks, months, sometimes years. Often, a slow pace or simply resistance by powerful interests generates a very high cost.
Too Slow & Public Relations
The relationship between time and cost is connected to change. Public relations is a “foil” that precludes real knowledge and distributes a pre-determined position or message to promote an advantage. It protects image. Experts generally agree when the expense to image or other factor becomes too great, change is likely to occur. Companies use cost to press for fast change. Timely payment on a mortgage, taxes or a credit card – avoids additional fees. Quick and preventive actions relative to your health gets rewarded through lower insurance premiums.
Nudge, the book by Thaler and Sunstein, focuses on “choice architecture” and the related behavior science research that guides how we can best gain attention or give a signal for change. In the private sector, getting “ahead” of change, discerning trends, and using them to market advantage is relevant to innovation and success. In any issue involving people, who incurs cost and how much before change happens are key factors. Plenty of social and political capital is spent keeping the status quo.
A recent newscast about Rosa Parks prompted me to think about the importance of urgency.
In the context of tremendous and persistent inequality, one woman took action that defied powerful norms of an oppressive majority. In Montgomery City, Alabama the first 10 seats on buses were reserved for whites. When Rosa Parks chose her seat, she sat midway down the aisle.
With the bus nearly filled, a white man entered. He expected to be seated in the front area. Consistent with the prevailing law, the bus driver insisted that Parks and three other African Americans give up their seats for him to be proximal to the reserved whites only section. Quietly, Rosa Parks refused. She kept her seat and was arrested and convicted for breaking the “Jim Crow” laws.
At the time, a significant majority, of bus riders were African American. Eventually, the city-wide bus boycott of more than a full year generated extraordinary economic and social costs. Erosion of the racist separate but equal doctrine generated by the Plessy Case in 1896 was launched by the Supreme Court ‘s decision that found segregation unconstitutional in 1956. Sixty years for legal change – and many, many more decades after for social progress. Today, intended and unintended inequities still exist.
The Green Jacket
Augusta is an all-male club and has been for 80 years. A few exclusive sponsorships are offered for the Masters golf tournament by the Augusta National Golf Club. IBM, a large and prominent corporation has been a consistent sponsor and the CEO is routinely offered a membership in the Club. Virginia Rometty is CEO of IBM. She is a golfer and die-hard fan. Rometty was denied an Augusta green jacket simply because she’s a woman. The Masters, is a famous golf tournament and contemporary example of institutional sexism. People in power exclude others to retain their dominance. Jews were not invited for decades and blacks were excluded until 1990. For now, males want and seek control for an all-male club.
When (and if) they choose, influential people can increase the speed of change and reduce costs – real dollars, social and opportunity costs. Leaders balance multiple interest in their choices. In the social sector, the aim is most often charity or justice for a vulnerable population. In the private sector, it is for responsible economic performance (and its benefits). Progress is greatly affected by leaders’ actions. Consider how your work might get further faster.
Whose needs are being served by the pace of change in your organization or community?
-Lisa Wyatt, Ed. D. is a strategy architect and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See : www.pwkinc.com