“The very best practice mechanics you devise – new plans, programs, and processes – will only succeed when you pay careful attention to the human behavior around those mechanics.”
Me to Our Clients, Everyday!
I am a change agent. I make my living helping individuals, teams and organizations identify their areas for improvement and market opportunities and then implement specific strategies and commitments to address them, thereby enhancing their overall performance.
To address weaknesses and capitalize on opportunities, something always has to change. The change or changes required include new or revised plans, programs, and processes. We’re never sure what will need to change in these “mechanics” when we start out, but in the end, to achieve new levels of performance, something must always, always change.
But changing mechanics – the who, what, when and where of your practice – is never enough. Instead, to be successful, you must also drive changes to human behavior around your newly revised plans, programs and processes. You have to inspire people to change their mindset, their self talk, their group talk, and their actions to ensure the investment you make in changed mechanics pays off. In this blog, I want to explore these different behavioral elements and share some ideas for driving change in each.
Changing mindset – Mindset is how people “feel” about a change. When driving a change to mindset:
- Consider whether people are made to feel that they must change because what they have been doing is “wrong” or because circumstances have changed that require new behaviors and activities. Whenever possible, inspire change based on possibility, not negativity. Instead of illustrating what your team is losing by not executing the change, illustrate how each person’s life or the lives of the firm’s stakeholders (or both) will be better once the change is in place.
- Recognize that people will have feelings about the change based upon their prior experience with change in your firm. If your leaders didn’t model expected behaviors or if past changes didn’t come to fruition, recognize that some skepticism about this change is natural. Acknowledge past mistakes and recommit to a better outcome this time around.
- People need to see where they fit into the changed future. Be very clear about each individual’s role in the new paradigm to ensure their mindset is clear and focused on their new expectations.
- Share success stories of other people or firms who have made this change so that your people can aspire to be like them.
Changing self talk – Self talk is the internal conversation that we all have running in our minds, all the time. It is something we cannot turn off, but it is something that we can shift to be more hopeful and positive. Do so by:
- Talking to your people about expected challenges as you undergo the planned change. Teach them that bumps in the road are expected, but when we encounter them, they don’t have to be ugly or negative. Instead, if we expect challenges, we can choose to interpret them more positively and not allow negative self talk to undo our resolve to implement the new mechanics and activities.
- As mentioned above, when people are not clear about where they fit in the changed future, they may engage in insecure self talk. Be straight about changes to roles, expectations and measures – even when it means telling someone their role is changing in a way that may be disappointing to them. This level of honesty will allow them to accept their new position or responsibilities more quickly and avoid insecure self talk that almost always comes with uncertainty.
Changing group talk – Group talk is the set of conversations people have one-on-one with each other, in small groups and in large groups. Teach your people about the importance of positivity and its impact on the mindset and self talk of others by:
- Asking that they act as watch dogs for “downer” group talk, where people complain or express resignation or defeat in the face of the changes required. When they encounter it, empower them to speak up and encourage the group shift to a more positive approach.
- Encouraging transparency and open dialogue about real problems, ensuring that the focus is identifying hurdles and then generating solutions to address them. Usually this requires that the people who can affect those solutions participate. So one way that your people can tell if they’re engaged in productive group talk is whether the right players are invited into the conversation.
- Avoiding words like “can’t” “no” “try” “might” and instead using affirmative words like “can” “yes, if we…” and “will” wherever possible.
Changing actions – With the right mindset, self talk and group talk, it will be much, much easier for your team members to change their actions. To facilitate this:
- Be clear about what specific actions you need by whom and by when to affect the change.
- Specify whether these are “point in time” actions or an ongoing new set of actions or activities that each person will be engaged in.
- Help them understand how the new or changed actions will affect the outcome.
- Be very specific about how the changed or new actions differ from what each person was doing prior to the change. What will they stop doing? What will they start doing? What will they do differently?
- Wherever possible, simply the expected changes by breaking complex ideas into smaller steps to avoid misunderstanding or a lack of confidence in tackling the new actions.
- Explain the processes and mechanics by which you plan to measure the success of the change and when you will discuss these results with your team.
- Identify any rewards that the individual may receive, where applicable, when the change has been affected.
- Communicate over and over again about the intention of the change, the progress you’re making, any roadblocks and solutions and next steps. For more information on communicating change, read "Communicate to Drive Change" and "Strategies for Giving-In to Change."
If you truly want to drive transformation, you must do more than point out problems, develop new strategies, publish new programs and policies, implement new systems and define new processes. While those things are important and they take a lot of collective energy, the real magic occurs when you also inspire the right mindset, motivate positive self talk, create a culture of hopeful and intentional group talk and devise a clear action plan. By focusing on both mechanics and behavior, you’ll lead your firm forward to the bright and possibility-filled future ahead!
Have you ever tried to drive change by focusing on mechanics without addressing behavior? If so, what happened? What do you do today to affect behavior in your firm? Please share your ideas!
This popular blog from September 2012 was updated and published today because of its relevance to our many readers.