Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Getting People to Change

When would you give up your passion? How would you feel if someone told you that you had no choice?

This happened to a good friend recently. She was told that for health reasons she would have to stop scuba diving, at least in the short term, maybe forever.

It was heartbreaking for her. As a keen diver myself, the thought of not being able to explore below the ocean’s surface is simply awful.

Change is hard work whatever the situation

The mechanisms for changing what we love to do or are simply comfortable with, are the same in our personal lives and at work. We have to rewire our brain. We can do this because our brains have plasticity.

The nature and intensity of our motivation to change will differ in various circumstances but regardless of our reasons for wanting to change behaviours or thought patterns, we will have to create new neural pathways and then to use them in preference to the old ones.

Until the new patterns become the new default response, it is hard brain work. Think about when you are tired and how easy it is to default to established patterns.

The old patterns are seductive

For example, when we had our kitchen renovated last year, I still found myself looking in the old place where the cutlery was kept until I got used to the new location.

And recently I was driving back from a meeting in Sydney’s northern suburbs to another at Rushcutters Bay in the East. Coincidentally it’s the same route as if I was going home. I was so busy thinking about what I was going to say at the meeting that I was driving on auto-pilot. I missed the turn to the meeting and found myself on my way home!

(Then I experienced The Almond Effect® and became anxious about being late and the impression that my lateness might create.)

Some other examples: using your old phone’s commands on a new phone, using old keystroke patterns on new systems at work, using approaches that used to work with your our old boss on the new one!

And maybe there are some things that are so hard-wired that people can never change. I am thinking here of a friend from Scotland who has lived more than 40 years in Australia and still has a really strong Scottish accent!

When we have to change, and even if we are strongly motivated to do so, we need to stay actively focused on changing our behaviours.

If not, you may find yourself in a situation where the old behaviours are triggered automatically and the old behaviours reappear.

Our autopilot at work

Many managers seem to overlook this. They become frustrated and impatient with the time it takes for people to adopt change at work.

They get tired of answering questions like:

But what about…? What’s wrong with the existing way? We’ve tried this before, what makes you think it will work this time?

Many questions are rationally based, yet many more have an emotional basis.

As managers, getting commitment to change requires us to respond to those emotion-based concerns even though we are under time pressures and deadlines. It is false economy not to do so.

Successful change leaders know this.

Failure to address the emotionally based questions results in delayed or failed change efforts. After all, these questions are triggered by our amygdala which are concerned with anything that doesn’t fit the existing patterns we know are ‘safe.’

We still see more than 40% of change projects failing to realize the projected goals of the change.

IBM identified the most significant challenge to change as Changing Mindsets and Attitudes in its Global Study Making Change Work 2008.

In a 2009 survey of CEOs, IBM identified Complexity as the number one challenge for CEOs and leaders currently.

Here is one of their recommendations:

“How CEOs can capitalize on complexity:
The effects of rising complexity calls for CEOs and their teams to lead with bold creativity connect with customers in imaginative ways and design their operations for speed and flexibility to position their organisations for twenty-first century success”

So even if Complexity is the number one challenge for leaders, dealing with it may require changed mindsets. Many executives will have to change their own behaviour as well as the behaviours of others.

How do we change ourselves and others?

It’s worth remembering that:

• Humans are hard wired for survival above all else

• Our default thinking is habitual and self-perpetuating

• Everyone is the product of their own experiences with different motivations and unique memories

• Change can be frustratingly slow because it’s hard brain work to rewire – even if it is logical and in the best interests

So to create the optimum conditions, change leaders should:

• acknowledge past patterns were OK at that time

• fully explain the ‘why’ of the change, the WIFM and ‘what will happen ‘if we don’t’

• understand “once is not enough” and send consistent change messages in multiple ways through multiple channels on multiple occasions

• model change – and be congruent

• focus on the emotional side of change; don’t just ‘install’ the new system or process or procedure

• use reward and recognition continuously to embed new brain patterns and behaviour

People don’t change behaviours easily.

This is especially true in workplaces with cultures and histories that are slow and resistant to change. A structured approach and full understanding of how people change is essential for managers and other change agents in today’s fast-moving world where ironically slowing down to get people on board, might be the optimal way to speed up.

As Marilyn Ferguson said:
“No one can persuade another to change. Each of us guards a gate of change that can only be opened from the inside. We cannot open the gate of another, either by argument or emotional appeal.”

No comments: