Consequences.... Here's the deal - 80% of our behavior is controlled by short term consequences. 80% of all we do is likely controlled by consequences that occur immediately or very, very shortly after the behavior. So when you ask "why am I having so much trouble meeting my long term goals?" it is probably because the consequences are too deferred. Or, if you are running a change program and you are espousing the long-term WIIFM for your employees - chances are that the control of the short-term consequences are more powerful than your "long-term" message. I often times have to remind project sponsors that it is not enough to just have a robust communication and training plan - you also need to have a plan which reinforces the baby steps that start to approximate the long-term desired result. Easier said than done, of course.
Behavior... the things we say and do. This is the next piece of the puzzle I want to blog about. Have you ever found that when you are not adapting well to a change, your behavior has got you into some kind of trouble? For example, ever been in a "change situation" where you thought your co-workers could benefit from your infinite wisdom and knowledge? So you get heavy and lay it on them. Then you can't understand why they just can't seem to grasp the gold nuggets you left for them. But it sure felt good giving them a piece of your mind didn't it!
Our thoughts and beliefs tend to manifest in our behaviors. So when we have negative thoughts and beliefs about a change (whatever "it" is) - the likelihood of those thoughts playing out in our behavior is pretty good. Those behaviors have consequences. Some of which, you might not like. Like being excluded from upcoming activities, or being avoided. "One-upping" your colleague, or being a little sarcastic, or talking behind someone's back might feel good at the time - but in the grand scheme, it doesn't help change the change. As we re-frame our negative thoughts and beliefs during times of change, we also need to plan for positive behaviors that will move toward the goal. The next step is to set up encouraging consequences to sustain those "new" behaviors. Consequences - the next piece of the puzzle :)
The puzzle is a great metaphor for change. Julie Smith (www.ChangePartner.com) uses the puzzle to describe the 5 action steps to navigate through change. The pieces may not always fit together smoothly as we know all to well. This post covers the two pieces of the puzzle that address resistance to change:
1. Your Feelings about the change. It is important to acknowledge the feelings that are locking you up and keeping you from moving forward before you can even think of putting the rest of the puzzle to work. The Heath brothers (of Switch) also acknowledge that you have to care for the elephant (their metaphor for our feelings) before we can make progress. During a change, we can experience a wide variety of feelings: anger, resentment, embarrassment - all of which can "lock us up" and keep us from moving forward. We can also experience positive feelings about the change: happy, enthusiastic, etc... In most cases, we have mixed feelings about a change. Focus on the positive ones and use them as your leverage. Most of us don't really like talking about our feelings, but it is important to share them with someone we trust in order to get through the change. Step number one: Write them down! Really. You need to acknowledge your feelings.
2. Your thoughts and beliefs about the change. The next step to managing your own resistance to a change is to recognize the thoughts and beliefs you are having about it which are "locking you up." Try to re-frame your negative thoughts and beliefs about the change to something positive. Words like: "I am stuck," "this will never work," or - "I don't believe...." are thoughts that are negative and will keep you locked. During a seminar I once heard a participant say: "This company continually keeps asking me to do more with less." Not a very positive outlook eh? So I asked him to "play along" with me and try to re-frame the thought to something more positive. After a minute or so, he responded: "Even though I am working harder, I am picking up some new skills that will help me advance in my job." For him, this was an emotional breakthrough! Why is re-framing your thoughts so important? Eventually, your negative thoughts and beliefs will manifest in your behavior... and that could get you into big trouble. I'll talk about behavior the next time :)
I have. You think that the change is going along smoothly, and then.... wham! Oops - we missed that. :(
Now what do we do? Do we rescind the decision and revert back to the old way? Do we admit our failing - apologize and ask our stakeholders to gut it out and move on? Ugh.. our reputation is at stake here!
Digging in your heels is probably not a good idea.. might as well kill the project. What you missed will go down as the only thing remembered about the change. Reverting back to the old way - not a good idea either. There had to be some business goal that is not being achieved if you do that.... right?
Probably the only choice you have is: 1. Be transparent about the miss. 2. Involve the stakeholders in calibrating the solution. 3. Let them know that they can and will make a difference in making sure we do this the right way. 4. Add some of them to the team to help build confidence that we won't miss something else. Tough pill to swallow? Yep.
John Kotter, a well known change management guru, tells us that when it comes to trying to convince those most resistant to change - well, to change.... forget about it! If someone is that dead-set against the change, they will do everything in their power (consciously or subconsciously) to sabotage the change. Yikes! Kotter recommends getting them out of the way, divert them, give them an assignment that will keep them from tampering with your project.
Another school of thought goes something like this... If you can convert your biggest resistor you will have your biggest supporter. True enough. But consider the amount of energy you have to spend on doing the conversion. Dr. Julie Smith (another guru in change management) says that during organizational change - reactions generally fall out like this: About 20% will resist the change; 60% will be receptive to it: 15% will react instinctively to the change; and, 5% will be resilient. Of course these percentages will shift depending on the severity of the change. But Julie kind of agrees with Kotter in some respects (I'm in the same camp - I "kinda agree"). As change managers, we should spend most of our effort working with those who are receptive to the change as they are the most vulnerable and can slip into the chasm of resistance. However, we can also help those who are resistant through coaching them to re-frame their thoughts and beliefs about the change. No matter what, there always choices: A) Accept the Change, B) Modify the change so it works for you, C) Choose to create a "new change" that fits you, or D) Choose to be miserable and a victim. How choose you?
The authors of Switch state that we often mistake people's desire to change as laziness. They site a study where researchers ask a number of students to come into a lab where they will test their taste preferences. One group is asked to eat the freshly baked chocolate chip cookies while the other group is asked to only sample a bowl of radishes. The researchers leave the room to induce temptation (for the unfortunate radish eating group) to see if they would "cheat" and steal a cookie. Well, they didn't. They worked hard at staying true to the assignment. The researchers announced that this study was over and gave the groups another assignment. Both groups were asked to trace a geometrical puzzle and not lift their pencil or backtrack... this exercise was designed as virtually impossible. The results? On average, the cookie eating group spent about 18 minutes on the task before giving up. The radish eaters on the other hand - gave up after 8 minutes! This is attributed to the fact that the radish eaters spent so much of their energy holding back on the previous task (avoiding the cookies) that their self control had just depleted!
So what does this have to do with change? During a major change in our lives, we are asked to substitute new behaviors for old familiar ones. As we "work" on the new (sometimes frustrating) task - we burn a lot of energy. In today's world, especially at work - we are asked to do many new things each day. No wonder we sometimes go home crabby! I don't think it is so much that people are lazy and don't want to change. I think that we are saturated with changes that do in fact exhaust us!