The PIT Factor in Change Management

Forwarded from our mail server to my e-mail inbox tonight was a quote from science fiction author Frank Herbert:
“The people I distrust most are those who want to improve our lives but have only one course of action.”
It seemed somewhat random but apparently not spam or a response to another e-mail. It was from someone I do not know working at a record store in Chicago, judging by the address. Wisdom comes to us from the most unexpected places. It’s worth reflecting on these words and what they mean for change management and in overcoming resistance to change.
How many of us have had the experience where we introduce absolutely brilliant ideas for improving processes, only to have the person working at that process frown or indicate that they don’t like it? How often has their resolve to resist change only hardened the more we tout the benefits of the new way or rationally explain that it is for the better? How many of us have walked away shaking our heads at their caveman ways, stubbornness or ignorance? How many of us have been that caveman? I certainly have.
Many time it is not the nature of the change itself, the content of the proposal or the idea that is at fault. It is not how the idea is communicated, although that is a large factor. The resistance to change is due to the PIT factor. If it wasn’t for the PIT factor, implementing lean manufacturing or driving any major change initiative would be easy, by the book, color by numbers. What is the PIT factor?
Borrowing Frank Herbert’s words, the PIT factor is “people I trust” factor in change management. Whenever we bring about change, we need to have the PIT factor as a strong positive in our favor. Even if your PIT factory is better than zero, it may not be high enough to overcome the resistance to change. As change agents we need to be trusted by the people whose lives we want to improve. If we are one of the “people I distrust” then we have a negative PIT factor and this creates a tremendous drag on our ability to bring about continuous improvement. Resisting this drag, or continuing in the face of a negative PIT factor creates friction, which results in energy being dissipated as heat without resulting in useful work. Just as you wouldn’t try to move a heavy load without mitigating friction first, it is wise to understand where and with whom trust needs to be built before going about changing people’s lives.
The PIT factor is not to be mistaken with the P value, the statistical indicator of probability of incorrectly rejecting the null hypothesis. Learn more about the p value and its use at the Lean Six Sigma Academy. Maybe we can talk Ron into running an experiment to determine the P value on the null hypothesis related to the PIT factor, pulling it out the realm of anthropological theory and closer to hard science.
Frank Herbert’s point is that people who think they have THE answer about how to improve our lives are generally mistaken. At best, they are incurious. Having succeeded with a sample population, or even themselves, the type of person Frank Herbert mistrusted had one course of action they believed in and promoted only it, rather than having one aim (improved lives) and a variety of approaches. The willingness to approach things with skepticism and a willingness to experiment, an open-mindedness if you will, is often a prerequisite to a willingness to listen to others. Listening to others is a basic prerequisite of building trust.
By the definition of continuous improvement, there is no one final way or condition, but only steps towards better and better lives. Whatever we think we know, and no matter how successful we have been in the past, we should not present the proverbial hammer in search of something that looks like a nail. What we think we know is less than what we actually know and is true. Past success is not an indicator of future success, as any brief study of history shows. In the end we need to keep learning in order to remain relevant. The best way to learn is by doing, trying and reflecting on the results. For anything beyond self-experimentation, we need the help of others. This requires effort to increase the PIT factor by building trust.


  1. Ondrej Pinka

    October 8, 2008 - 1:02 pm

    Jon, how would you comment a PIF factor in change management? That is, “People I Fear”, which would actually not be the correct name. Maybe “Fear Factor” would be more appropriate name. I come from Eastern Europe, where often people are:
    – afraid of a change in general (quite common everywhere)
    – afraid of their boss
    – afraid to speak their minds
    – afraid to accept / support a change when they like it if the “crowd” (PIT) says no
    – afraid to ask (“everyone seems to understand, I don’t want to be the stupid one”)
    and so forth. So sometimes FF can really help to gain momentum, sometimes it makes changes very difficult even for PIT.

  2. Jon Miller

    October 8, 2008 - 3:06 pm

    Hi Ondrej,
    That is a good comment. As Dr. Deming said, removing fear from the workplace is one of the key roles of a leader. This can be hard for leaders because they too are afraid of losing power, or of appearing to lose control.
    We need a healthy tension in the workplace, not an unhealthy sense of fear.