Improving the Likelihood of Successful Change

Why do things need to change?

We are familiar with the statement “the only constant in life is change”.  Change is hard.  But we often don’t have a choice.  Our environment is constantly changing.  It also helps to remember that improvements are also a form of change.  Not all change is bad or negative.

How do we change successfully?

First, we need to understand whether change is necessary.  A fad of the month makes us and those around us cynical.  When we take an objective look at the situation, we will often see that the current approach is adequate.  But we can’t wear blinders or rose-colored glasses when we go through this exercise.  Second, we need to understand why change is necessary.  The energy required for change is too high for us to agree to start when the benefits are unknown or unclear.  Ideally, the reasons why will be so compelling that we stop resisting change.  Third, we need to understand how the change can happen.  Our fears usually connect with the difficulty of the change in behavior.  We will consider nine ideas that will make successful change more likely.

Ideas to make successful change more likely

Find the Bright Spots – It is difficult to imagine doing something that no one has done before.  Fortunately, we are not usually the first ones to travel a new path.  Perhaps we ourselves display the desired outcome in certain situations.  Other individuals, teams, or organizations are often available for us to study or use as mentors.  Ask questions to understand how they do what they do.  Slowly we are convinced that change is possible.

Script the Critical Moves – Change upsets the status quo and we face a host of choices about what to do first.  Spend some time spelling out the first few desired actions that enable us to start right away.  Early wins build excitement, especially when addressing aspects of change that are not very clear at the beginning.  Sometimes we just don’t see where to start until we plan early actions.

Point to the Destination – A vivid picture of the future helps us see possibilities and understand quickly why we need to change.  An attractive end state provides the inspiration for change.  We are usually willing to do the hard work of change if we really understand why.  More than a list of goals, this describes life after the change is complete.

Find the Feeling – Many people assume that we change if we can just take time to think it through.  Actually, we more likely change if we can emotionally see and feel the need for change.  We should make the problem visible in a way that creates an emotional response.  Advertisers have learned to do this well.  We can take a page from their book and create visuals that provide a gut reaction.  In the end, we will only sustain what we really feel like doing.

Shrink the Change – We are more likely to pursue change if we are convinced that we are part-way to the goal at the outset.  An early win on a subset of the change can provide hope.  Hope will provide the fuel to sustain change.  Another way to look a this is that some of what we are doing today will be an important part of our process after the change is complete.  Not everything is changing.

Grow as People – View the change as a matter of identity rather than a grind.  “I aspire to be the kind of person who would make this change”.  Remember that temporary failure is likely but that learning will kick in.  Change really can make life better.

Tweak the Environment – Small adjustments to our environment can encourage change.  Identify situational adjustments that make it easier to change.  This can range from visual reminders of the desired behavior to making the old behavior harder to carry out.

Build Habits – Habits allow positive things to happen without using up energy towards self-control.  Action triggers, a mental plan for when and where you will change, can help.  In other words, we need to build awareness that this is the type of situation where we want to behave differently.  Use short checklists to guide critical tasks.  Eventually, the response will become automatic and our new way of doing things.

Rally the Group – Group behavior is contagious.  If most of a group models the changed behavior, laggards will catch up.  We should surround ourselves with like-minded people who are already modeling the change.  That will provide motivation for us to get our act together.  Another important concept is that groups of reformers need space to meet away from the negative influence of those who do not want to change.

Pitfalls and misconceptions

What looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity.  If we experience resistance, the questions about why and how need better answers.  Clarity upfront prevents foot-dragging later.

What looks like laziness is often exhaustion.  Perhaps the change is too big or we haven’t adequately visualized the problem.  We need to find encouragement and an appropriate sense of identity.  We don’t need scolded for laziness when trying to push beyond our natural tendencies.

What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem.  We can’t assume that the change would implement itself if we just had the right attitude.  We should focus our efforts on reducing barriers to change.

Stepping into change

While not always welcome, we often need to step into change.  We take positive action to help the adjustment go better.  Couple that with a positive attitude and change is not nearly so hard as we think.

If you are interested in this topic and would like examples, I recommend the book “Switch” by Chip Heath and Dan Heath