When it comes to change, emotion obliterates common sense!

In Maths, we are taught that 1+1 =2. This is a simple common sense logic which is imprinted in us from as early as we are able to count. We accept it.

When it comes to the acceptance of change however, logic and common sense take a back seat to emotion ….even in high risk scenarios where the penalty for not changing could be disastrous. Case in point is a recent situation where a judge put a stop to Network Rail’s (NR’s) plans to replace an independently assessed “high safety risk” Victorian level crossing gate. The hope of substituting the vintage, outdated and manual gate in Sussex for a  modernised, safer and remotely controlled one, was refused on the basis of ….cultural heritage.

According to the Rail News  the gates at Plumpton between Burgess Hill and Lewes are of a traditional pattern, difficult to operate and maintain and controlled from an old signal box alongside whose worn locking mechanism also poses further risks. NR sought planning permission to upgrade the crossing with modern lifting barriers which could in future be controlled by the new Rail Operating Centre remotely.

Confident that the planning permission would be rationally granted (after all we are talking safety here and Level Crossings are high profile safety risks), NR closed the road in Sept only to be refused planning permission by the Lewes District Council a few days later who said that the modernisation would cause “substantial harm to the significance of the signal box”.

This is resistance at its best….and some would say, worst. When faced with this, where does the Change leader start? A good place would be the Richard Beckhard and Rubin Harris Change Equation / Formula for overcoming resistance to change:

C = (ABD) > X where:

C is the change,

A is the level of dissatisfaction with the status quo

B is the proposed solution or desired new state

D is practical steps to the desired state, and

X is the “perceived” cost of the change.

In applying the equation in this case, the multiplier of A, B, D must be greater than what the Lewes council perceive as the cost / price of the change – i.e. the loss of their heritage. Therefore, if any of A, B, D was zero, the change was never going to fly!

Reading between the lines, one can only surmise that the stumbling block for NR was either a lack of fatality or serious accidents in recent memory at the Plumpton level crossing (alias A) or that the proposed modern design of the crossing gates was…a tad too modern and  lacked vintage authenticity (alias B).

Network Rail area director Steve Knight is right when he says that “we have to find a safer long term solution for the level crossing. We cannot stand idly by and allow an outdated, high-risk crossing to remain in use when we know we can make it much safer.”

All he and his team have to do is to find a solution which makes A and/ or B more emphatic.

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