Join Britt Andreatta for an in-depth discussion in this video Making change stick, part of Leading Change (2013).
How do you keep change from backsliding? Making change stick is just as important as designing it in the first place, if not more so. If you've been using the strategies I've outlined in the five phase model, you've already set up your change for success. But now we want to anchor it deeply into the behavior of your people. Implementing change always requires some kind of behavior change, always. People must stop doing something one way and start doing it another. Let's look at how you can help them. First, make the behavior change clear.
It's really helpful if you're specific about what behaviors are changing. And how they should change. Get into the details of the behaviors and make sure they're clearly understood by everyone involved. Change also generates second and third order behavior shifts. You need to be clear about those as well. In fact, it can be really helpful to revisit your futures wheel diagram and chart the corresponding behavior changes. Perhaps forms need to be sent to different departments, or other people need to receive communication. It's important to work out the details as best as you can, and then intentionally build in a time to meet and discuss how things are unfolding, so you can quickly identify and respond to any unintended consequences.
Second, honor the power of habit. When we do behaviors over and over again they become grooved, and even develop thicker neurological pathways. Eventually we can do them without even thinking about them. Have you ever moved to a new home, and in those first few weeks found yourself driving to the old one? I have. And I bet some of the folks at KinetECO will drive to the old office. Now, that situation is self-correcting. They'll have to turn around and get to the new office. But here's something more subtle that's also likely to happen. Let's say that a couple of staff members are assigned to report to Alex.
It's likely that they will unintentionally, or even unconsciously, still orient to Miles for a while. Perhaps, they CC him on an email, or they seek out his advice on something. it's important to remember that they're not trying to thwart the new plan or undermine Alex. It's likely that they're just stuck in a habit loop. The lead team knew this was likely so they created a plan for these issues. Up front, everyone received clear instructions about who they reported to and how communication was supposed to flow. And when people slipped, gentle reminders were provided.
Miles would simply say thank you, and this communication needs to be sent to Alex. Fourth, have patience while modelling the new ways. Now here's where leaders can be challenged. Letting go of old habits takes more time than you think it should. Research has shown that it really takes about 40 repetitions of a behavior before it becomes grooved as a habit. So Miles should be really prepared to respond patiently about 40 times to each person. Let's say Garrett communicates with Miles several times per week.
Garrett will develop the new habit in fewer days than another staff member who emails Miles every other week. Behaviors that people do daily, like drive to the new office, will convert over faster than infrequent behaviors, like sending a form to purchasing. So here's your mantra Patience, patience, patience. In fact, I encourage you to map behaviors on a calendar. You can generally predict when each one will settle in, if you base your estimate on 40 repetitions of that specific behavior.
Fifth, help people overcome the awkwardness and discomfort of changing a behavior. Let me show you an example. Follow along with me. Reach your hands out in front of you, and now clasp your hands. Release. Do it again. And one more time. Okay, now stop here and take a look at your hands. Notice which thumb is on top. This is your typical grasp. The one you use without even thinking about it. Now I want you to do this activity again, but this time reverse your hands and put the other top thumb on top. Ready? Here we go. How's that feel? Funny, right? Try again.
It's different huh? Not really good or bad. Just different. If I made you do this many more times, it would eventually become less awkward. And that's why you want to intentionally design opportunities to practice. Yes, practice. Sure you can have them practice on the job, but you can also design some specific opportunities for practice into your training. If training includes doing the behavior five times you're already on your way to 40. Build the practice sessions as close as you can to the real implementation, because if they spend any time going back to the old way you have to make those repititions up again.
In addition, make sure you augment training with manuals and videos that people can use to enhance their own learning. Use the handout in the exercise files to map out how you can help your people, change their behavior, and form new habits.
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- Understanding resistance and the emotions of change
- Assessing the need for change
- Building your change team
- Evaluating solutions
- Announcing the change
- Implementing change that works