Behavior Change Is Hard, 6 Factors To Improve Your Odds

We all know that changing one’s behavior is so fraught with challenges that it rarely actually works.  We get set in our ways.  Even when there is good reason to change, mighty forces stand in the way.  And even when we do finally make a change, there remains a strong and long-lasting pull to revert back to the old “tried and true” ways.  The resistance to change is more than just personal preferences, it’s biological.  We are wired to preserve the status quo

Changing the behaviors of teams or organizations is many times harder!  Numbers of people need to be pulled, cajoled, or pushed against their natural tendencies.  Ask any OD or change management consultant, and they will tell more stories of failure than success.

To improve your odds of achieving organization change your change management program must have the following 6 components.  Your chances of success plummet if you miss even one.  Note that 3 generally require intervention, consulting, and/or training by an outside consultant who knows the territory and can guide the overall journey.  The other 3 relate to the supporting role of technology.  Consulting or new technology by itself will rarely succeed in the long run. The combination has real power.

  1.  A good enough reason to change. Some problem or opportunity must be so compelling as to merit even attempting the change process.  Don’t take this consideration lightly.  If the goal is only marginal improvement, then don’t bother.  The prize has to be really big, and it has to be understood by people on the team.  Virtually everyone needs to “buy-in” at some level.
  1.  A picture of the new behavior.  This involves two levels.  First, the group needs a shared vision of the new organization that has enough clarity to be enticing.  Second, individuals need to know what the new behavior looks like when we see it.  Stories from other companies can only be of limited help because every organization is different.  Descriptions of the new behavior(s) need to be specific.  General platitudes like “we need to build more trust and better accountability” won’t cut it.  People need detailed scripts.
  1.  Leadership.  Most often this is the team leader, boss, supervisor, CEO, etc.  The leader has to be gung-ho for the change.  But leadership must also come from team members.  In fact, having a couple of “early adopters” on the team who point the way for others can be the real key to success.
  1.  Practice. Software is the instantiation of the new “scripts”.  Even the words used in describing the change should be mirrored in the software interface.  The software guides, nay requires, following the new behavior.  The software forces users into a path toward the new.  Furthermore, new behaviors require repetition.  Software creates standard, repeating actions that reinforce and sustain the new practices.
  1.  A system of record to monitor progress. Monitoring change in progress cannot be accomplished based on mere impressions and personal opinions.  There must be some supporting evidence.  The new behavior(s) need to be codified.  Technology is the “neutral” eye-in-the-sky that records successful new behavior and answers questions like: Are we doing the new behavior or not?   Which individuals are doing them and which are not?  How often?  What are the results of the new behavior?  Do the new behaviors show promise? etc.
  1.  Metrics to show results.  Ultimately, we need to answer the question did the change make a difference?  Producing a definitive before and after analysis is often very difficult, but the software database can provide a host of both personal and organization-wide statistics from which real bottom-line benefits can be inferred.

Changing the behavior of a team is hard.  An honest assessment of these six factors can tell you whether it’s worth a try.  Combining management coaching/training with supporting technology can really improve the odds of succeeding.

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