Change Behaviour: Part Art; Part Science

Change Behaviour: Part Art; Part Science

Change is the only constant. We have had this phrase beaten into us for decades; and quite frankly there is probably no truer phrase out there. But when we dig a little deeper and question why, “why is change constant?”, we uncover some interesting truths about human behaviour that must be controlled to really affect change.

Change Truth 1 : We are Inherently Lazy

A million times we have heard the story about giving a man a fish to feed him for a day; teach a man to fish to feed him for a lifetime. The problem with that life lesson is that the man doesn’t want to fish. The man wants the fish delivered promptly at 18:30 on a silver platter. Of course I am generalizing… Some people don’t like fish; but this truth works no matter your culinary preference. We are naturally resistant to change.

Teaching me how to do something is not going to make me instantly unlearn everything that I have done before. To change my behaviour; you need to show me why. Show me why I need to change. Show me that this change is for my own good.

If you can get to the bedrock of the reason change needs to happen; you stand a far better chance of making that change stick.

Change Truth 2 : It’s A Process

Showing; telling and teaching are all important factors for entrepreneurs and managers to get right to effect a cultural change. The magic happens when you move past that. When you change the way things are done. When you change the process.

If you listen to the Simon Sinek TED Talk on “Why” – he talks about starting with ‘why’ as a way leaders inspire action. He talks about moving from the centre: why; how; what. The critical word: “inspire”! And I completely agree; leaders need to start by inspiring their circles to change. They need to show them the way; they need to get them to see; feel; believe that there is a better way of doing things. The way to do that is to fundamentally show them the “why“!

The immutable truth is that we are creatures of habit and no matter how inspired I might be – I will always default to Rule 1.

To make sure that change is maintained; it needs to have a direct effect on the way you do things. It needs to affect the “what” and the “how” circles. If the process doesn’t change then the behaviour cannot be expected to change in spite of the process.

As leaders, we cannot be content to stop at inspiring. That lasts a week; a day; a hour. We need to be ready to change the Ways of Working.

Once we have shown a better way; once we have inspired and begun a groundswell of support; we need to be enablers. Enablers that help new ways of working that underpin and reinforce all the ground work that we laid while inspiring.

Change Truth 3 : Show Me Proof

Seeing is believing. After you have told someone how to do something; you need to show them where it is being done that way. Humans are naturally sceptical and need to see a lot of things before they will believe them.

Proof points of change are vitally important. Statistics are great and all, but to really make someone see the difference your new way of working can bring about, you need to show them a real person (or at least a real scenario) where they can see the positive change effects for themselves.

People relate to people and it is easier to believe something where there is a real human link. As I said before statistics are faceless and are largely unrelatable. That’s why when you see an advert for a hotel room; you don’t see an empty room with statistics about how many people have reported a comfortable night’s rest. You see a smiling happy person who is thoroughly enjoying (probably a little too much judging by some of the smiles) their night’s stay in their hotel room.

Showing people that the room is enjoyable is a less than subliminal way of inadvertently saying, “this is a great room; this person likes it and they are pretty and successful. If you stay in this room, by extension, you will be pretty and successful too!”

Show me where this change makes people happier and frees them up for more fulfilling things and you have my attention!

Change Truth 4 : Wash, Rinse, Repeat

In his book: Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell postulates that, “ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness.”. Effectively meaning that if you practice something for 10 000 hours, you will be an expert at that one thing.

10k hours : Malcom Gladwell

We should view changing behaviour in a work context through the same lens. It needs to be continually practiced. Continually reinforced. Repeated.

Yes there has been a lot of conjecture around the 10 000 hours rule; but the principle remains valid. If we want to define a new normal. If we want to define a new way of doing something; we need to inject a behavioural stimulant.

Advertising has known about this phenomenon for years. Constantly placing brands “top of mind” to make sure that when we feel thirsty there really only is one choice that springs to mind. The same is true of changing behaviour and inculcating a way of working that is not native to a group of people who have been so ingrained in a particular way of working that any change is going to seem alien to them. It will be met with anger, disdain and ultimately be rejected. When they see it again it will be slightly more familiar and will not immediately be rejected. It will be recalled and reinforced.

Rounding It Off

These are not necessarily four immutable laws of change; but they are definitely guiding principles that we should all bear in mind as we strive to make ourselves; our environments and our companies better.

The way of working discussion is not just influenced by technology. It is not just about becoming digital. In organisations where there is a large dependency on creativity or where manual labour is required; the ways of working conversation is potentially even more relevant. People resist change; robots and machines don’t (well not yet). People need to have the why; the what and the how answered before you have any chance to altering their behaviour permanently.

We should all be cogniscent of that no matter our situation. From changing the people of a nation to believe in unity is one thing; to get them to act that way repeatedly is going to take a lot more than a great speech filled with charisma. It is going to take repetition of a message; evidence of the change and a level of intolerance to the old “ways of working”.

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