Three Steps to Behavioural Change Heaven

I am sure we have all seen statistics that show that most change initiatives fail because of issues to do with a lack of acceptance of change or a so-called human resistance to change. 

Why is it so surprising? The reasons people don’t like change are obvious. It is inherent in the human psyche. We have coined the term ‘comfort zone’ to refer to the boundaries of what is comfortable for us. Change, by definition, usually takes us outside our comfort zones so hey presto, we are uncomfortable! It’s not rocket science!

However, it always amazes me how much money is spent on organisational change programmes and behavioural change programmes without ever really getting to grips with this challenge.

Business change programmes often have ‘Process’ workstreams, ‘Systems’ workstreams or ‘Organisation Design’ workstreams, but rarely a ‘human resistance to change’ workstream. OK, we could probably give it a better name but why this omission? Given that this resistance to change is so prevalent, surely it is remiss not to tackle it head on.

“What about the ‘culture change’ workstream?” I hear you say….surely that deals with the issue? Unfortunately not in many cases. Culture change often talks about interplay between the various organisational, process, system and people levers and yes, the ‘people’ lever usually means skills and/or behaviours however the 'behaviours' part – often encapsulated by organisational Values – often suffers from the same issue….people don’t change behaviour in the way intended.

So enough about the problem… do we fix it?

The first step is recognising the issue and being prepared to talk about it. For some reason, there is often a reluctance. Perhaps change leaders think that the rationale for the change and/or the business case ‘should’ be compelling enough on its own. They argue people ‘should’ get it – and if they don’t, well, frankly it’s their own fault. They must be dumb or slow on the uptake. The word ‘should’ is dangerous. It passes the buck and is missing the point. Without explicitly acknowledging something, there is zero chance of fixing it.

The second step is accepting there is no ‘one size fits all’ answer to a very individualised issue. Resistance to change may be an inherent human trait however the specific cause of one person’s resistance will be very different to another’s. 

Step three is enabling line managers to master the art of having conversations about emotions and feelings - something that brings many of them out in hives! This involves understanding what makes different people tick (or not tick), understanding their real fears and concerns and developing a relationship based on trust and openess that will create a ‘safe space’ for someone to share what might be going on for them or what is getting in the way. They need to be able to coach people through the mental barriers of leaving their comfort zones and to develop the 3 critical beliefs than any individual needs to hold before they will willingly change behaviour:

  1. A belief that the change is important – this is the part where the rationale for the change will come in. This tells the person why it’s important for the business AND why it's important for them. 
  2. A belief that there is something in it for them – this is the tricky one. Yes it might be important but to get someone to choose to change (people only change behaviour because they choose to even if they don’t realise they are choosing), they need to genuinely believe they can personally gain or benefit at a deeper level than it being good for the bottom line. In addition and critically, this benefit needs to be big enough to convince them it’s worth the effort to change.  
  3. A belief that they have the ability to succeed in what they are being asked to do or they can learn the skills required to succeed if they don’t possess them now.  

These 3 beliefs are critical. its not easy but succeed in enabling an individual to hold this belief set and profound and lasting behavioural change can become a reality!