When a new era dawns in any organisation the habit is usually to turn towards motivational techniques to effect the necessary change. This is however exactly what prevents most organisations from changing effectively.
While traditional motivational activities work very well for creating shared intentions – usually based on hope, fear, or peer pressure – real change only happens through sustained and disciplined action.
The missing link between intent and action for change is the skill to change one’s own behaviour.We often expect people to adapt to change – especially when we’re excited about a new opportunity – without ever teaching them how to change.
This expectation is as unfair as asking an artist to do the job of a trained accountant. They might be very willing to, but unless they receive the same training, they will be largely unable to, or at least be unable to perform at the same level.
Translate the reason for change
The first step in developing the skill to change is to ensure that everyone affected understands exactly what should change and why.
While this might seem obvious, change management campaigns are often reduced to clever catch phrases developed by marketing departments.
Very few organisations invest in translating change messages into a context that is relevant to and understood by various groups and individuals.
Never assume that everyone understands why change is necessary. It is easy to mistake shared intent for true understanding. This is often a symptom of too much focus on motivating change, without the necessary backup by a clearly understood reason for change.
The logical reason for change will be the basis of discipline that’s left after the initial motivation – driven by emotion – has subsided.
It is also imperative to be very specific on which behaviours are expected to change.
People find it easier to change if they are told exactly what is expected of them in terms of both undesired and replacement behaviour, rather than leaving it up to individual interpretation.
Understand the complexity of resistance to change
Even the most compelling reasons for change, and the clearest communication is however not a guarantee for changed behaviour.
Humans are neurologically, psychologically, and sociologically programmed to resist change as a survival mechanism. We are hardwired to think that we can only ensure our future survival if we can control what the future will look like.
Organisations have to teach those that will be affected by change how to accept the unfamiliar and remain focused on the core purpose of the organisation. Resistance to change is dependent on so many complexities that the “mind over matter” approach of most change management programmes is unrealistic. Organisations that empathise with its people and train them on how to reduce the habitual resistance will see much better results.
Don’t count on linear results
Traditional change management programmes rely on motivation led by a change champion, and an entire group moving from one point to another through massive effort.
The problem with this linear approach is that it is not suited to the agile world in which we live. Very often, we find that change has changed by the time we get to where we thought it was going to be.
This strengthens my argument against relying too heavily on change driven by motivation, and led by a single source.
Change driven by several individuals or smaller groups – who have been trained in how to change their own behaviour to effect change – might not deliver results that align with each other simultaneously. It does however allow for these individuals and groups to take responsibility and be accountable for continuous movement towards a shared goal.
While linear results might look better in a report, more organic results have a compound effect across an organisation. Before you expect something different of people, first make sure that they understand exactly what is expected of them, and take responsibility as an organisation for equipping them to do differently. It might seem unnecessarily frustrating and lengthy in the beginning, but it will be an investment that continues to provide returns.