I keep hearing the same story from all sorts of different businesses; we’ve done the thinking, we’ve got a strategy that everyone agrees with… but nothing has changed! Amongst those who are leading changes in business structure and profile there is bafflement: Surely people can see the imperative? Why do they keep doing the same things they have always done?
It reminds me of the old joke; how many psychotherapists does it take to change a light bulb? One, but the light bulb has got to want to change.
And there is the conundrum; getting people to change behaviour ought to be easy. No one is being asked to get into astrophysics overnight. It should not be that difficult. But it is. Moving beyond rhetoric and into action requires individuals to choose to do something differently.
Occasionally I hear about an individual who is driving everyone mad by simply not towing
the line. Perhaps they refuse to use a new management system or they never turn up to events. This person believes themselves to be special or different from everyone else. They are convinced that in some way their situation is exceptional, i.e. change should apply to everyone except them.
Dealing with this person is hard, because fundamentally it means trespassing on the individual’s sense of who they are. If they are rigidly adhering to a particular practice or excluding themselves from something, then it is likely that the behaviour serves some underpinning value or belief which will need to be tackled if they are to stay in the business. Not an easy prospect.
The long grass
However challenging the maverick individual is, at least they are visible and the way to manage the situation is fairly easily identified, even if it is unappealing.
Perhaps a more difficult challenge arises when the majority of people pay lip service to the importance of change. Quite quickly a kind of organisational paralysis sets in. Those championing change get frustrated; those resisting change may be unaware of the impact of their intransigence, because don’t see the connection between agreeing to a strategy and implementing it through the way they think and act on a daily basis. Soon the idea of change begins to be a drag.
Creatures of habit
I habitually make tea using a teapot. I am aware that there are other (inferior) ways of making tea, but left to my own devices I’ll do what I always do. I know that the tea tastes better if brewed in a pot. I know that reduces the temperature of the liquid. I have learned that if I warm the pot and the cup I can keep my tea hot. Doing those things is easy and I chose to do them. I like making tea this way, because I like hot tea. I have the knowledge, the skills and the attitude required to make a really good cup of hot tea. I routinely adapt when I’m out and about. I can drink tea made in the mug. I change my expectations and behaviour to suit the occasion.
Ok, there’s not much at stake in my example. It is true though, that we default to our behavioural preferences most of the time whatever the activity in question is. Being able to flex our behaviour to adapt to new demands involves being aware of our default position and consciously choosing to shift our ground. Being self-aware and aware of impact of one’s behaviour on others is a starting point for change.
Time & investment
Creating changes in behaviour takes time and investment. It requires a planned approach. People need the opportunity to make changes in their daily work, and they need their efforts rewarded when they do. Individual and collective evidence of success is crucial.
Bringing strategy alive
Our best successes in bringing strategy alive have been with organisations which are willing to address knowledge, skills and attitudes. That openness enables us to use online learning, class-room based experiential learning and coaching to ensure that people;
- Know what they need to know and
- Have a chance to try out new skills and
- Are challenged and supported as individuals to make changes
Usually when we are delivering these programmes I have to make my tea in the cup, but you can’t have everything.