Declaring the need for change is not enough. And implementing a “change program” may not even be enough to get you the change you want. The basic bargain of an effective change initiative is that if we keep expending effort, we’ll see the impact.
No matter what changes you’re considering or attempting — whether you’re trying to shift personal health habits or organizational tone and values — the last things you’ll want to hear are: “We don’t do it that way,” “I tried that before and it didn’t work,” or “You know that’s not our focus!”
The other charge that you won’t want to hear is that you’re part of some flavor-of-the-month mentality — a sponsor of great hope followed by repeated burnout and added disarray.
Two Truths About Change
You can avoid the polar opposites of frustration and resistance by taking two major points into account:
- One size almost never fits all. It’s unbelievably difficult to create and sustain significant change with any kind of program or initiative that’s “off the shelf” or worked somewhere else, but which hasn’t been designed — or at least tailored specifically — for your or your organization’s actual needs and circumstances.
- Even after you begin to see the change you want, you need to integrate its ongoing steps, tasks, or behaviors into the normal fabric of your personal or workplace life if you want the change to be sustainable. Otherwise, the new behaviors are likely to fall away as soon as there’s any distraction or a disruptive event.
Four Ways to Drive Change
How can you put together an initiative that delivers on both of these truths? By incorporating as many of these four specific drivers of change as possible, even if you can’t include them all from the beginning.
- When people ask, “What’s in it for me?” they’re really probing to see how and why they’re an important part of the change: Are they simply tools, or are they true agents and beneficiaries? They need to know they matter and that their participation in the process makes a meaningful difference. Otherwise, they’re unlikely to feel that the goals of the change process and the activities attached to it are meaningful or relevant.
- To maintain the necessary focus, dedication, and commitment to move forward, people need to have confidence that not only will the change work, but that there will be a payoff too. In the workplace, employees might need to trust they’ll get the recognition, compensation, or status they deserve. On a personal level, you’ll need to see the result of your efforts. For instance, after enough practice meditating, you’ll expect to actually experience more calm or equanimity.
- You’ll know a change has really stuck once the attendant behaviors have become routine, but until that point, there has to be enough freshness to stave off boredom and frustration. So look for opportunities to make things interesting, the way video games vary their jumps and background settings to keep the action from getting too similar and boring. Newness can also be addictive: Yesterday you did 20 squats, so today you’ll do 25; last month your team emphasized the elimination of extra steps in a service process, so this month they’ll work on improving customer satisfaction.
- And wherever possible, make the individual behavioral changes — even if they’re yours — small enough that they can slip under the “radar of resistance.” That way, you can spend as little time and energy on re-explaining, re-convincing, or monitoring and focus on the progress you want. Don’t assign yourself to read a new book a week, for instance, if you’ve never read that fast before; starting with a chapter a week is more likely to lead to success.
These suggestions are mutually reinforcing — each of them makes it more likely that another one will work. If you tailor the changes to specific individuals and situational needs, you’ll be helping people value their progress — and you’ll make it more likely that they’ll get to celebrate its eventual impact.
Onward and upward,