Read the cover story of the May 2005 issue of Fast Company: Change or Die. When you read that changing people’s behavior is difficult–really, really difficult–are you more shocked or are you more relieved? As a leader, do you see this as sad news or is it justification of what you’ve always known? Either way, there’s cause for excitement. Sure, the odds are against you; they are against everyone. But you can beat the odds. Here’s how.
- Get the context right – this stuff is hard but worth it. Your success as a leader depends on it. Havard Business School professor John Kotter, as quoted in Fast Company, says, “The central issue is never strategy, structure, culture, or systems. The core of the matter is always about changing the behavior of people.”
- Accept reality – if you know how difficult it is to change people’s behavior, you’ll put in the required effort to make change happen. You won’t over-optimistically assume that policy or charisma or any other point solution will handle things. And you won’t brush under the carpet the focus needed to affect change in people.
- Understand behavior – study it, query it, confrm it. Make a study of people’s behaviors. There are patterns of behavior out there that you can see and decode. Use tools and methods like the DISC. You’ll be surprised how much you already know. Test your understanding by asking questions. “Has this person given up or am I seeing her quiet-and-committed style?” “How can I diffuse the beligerence of these aggressive types?” Get the input of others to validate you conclusions.
- Actively influence and support behavior change – Communicate. OVERcommunicate! Communicating facts is okay; you’ll win when you address emotions. John Kotter says, “Behavior change happens mostly by speaking to people’s feelings.” And, from the article,
- Re-define the context of change. People get stuck when they can’t see and break out of their old frames of reference. Give them a new one that’s simple, positive, and resonant.
- Make bold changes. They’re scarier but they create success faster which supports further change.
- Provide support. Use as your role definition the CEO in Patrick Lencioni’s book, “The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive.” His advice is to get your team solid, set the vision (“organizational clarity”). constantly re-inforce that vision, and build human systems (e.g. training, compensation, hiring) that support that vision.
- Model change youself. The adage, “The fish rots from the head,” says it plainly. If you want to see change in your organization, open to changing yourself. I can’t emphasize this enough. As leader, people look to you for cues. Your organization is ever a reflection of your views and beliefs, stong or weak, positive or negative. It mirrors you. Here are some tips: Give up having to know it all. Give up having to look good. Question practices. Build strong personal habits. Hire a coach! 🙂 Seek feedback. Surround yourself with people of high integrity. Develop your character. Redefine your role as enabler of others. Delegate well. Eliminate stress and build health. Adopt a practical task/action management system. And take everything a step at a time.
You see, you can affect change. You need to find and push on the right levers of vision, emotion, and integrity. I recommend you do this because the alternative isn’t so hot.