Making a Change.
So, you’re making a change, perhaps in your business, your team, or your own leadership behaviour. You’ve thought it through, you can almost touch the wonderful outcomes this change is going to produce. You know that you can expect some resistance, but you’re clear on what needs to happen and why, so you should be able to overcome any barriers.
And then you get to it. Things are fine for a short while and you can see some changes taking shape.
Fast forward a few months: looking back you realise nothing much has changed at all. How can that be, after such a promising start?
Change in itself is not necessarily hard – we all make changes successfully. But we often don’t really know what it is we did that was so successful.
There is no fixed recipe for successful change, but there are 3 key things most people forget to do, that dramatically increase the likelihood of a change being successful.
Analyse the environment
When change is not successful we too often assume that it is because of a controllable factor, such as lack of motivation, willpower or self-discipline. We don’t give enough ‘credit’ to the environment we’re meant to make the change in.
You see, our environment is often structured in such a way that it makes the unwanted behaviour so much easier than the new behaviour.
Let me illustrate: my mum visits me regularly from the Netherlands. She’s in her 70s, and over the past 20 years or so she has gradually put on weight and it’s making her uncomfortable. After her visit she almost always notices, with some surprise, that she’s lost weight while she stayed with me. And then adds in the same breath: “And you never have anything to eat in the house.”. Which isn’t completely true, but she’s right about one thing: I don’t buy snack food. Because I know that if I have it, I’ll eat it! It’s so much harder to resist eating snacks when I know they’re there – my environment is enabling that behaviour – than to resist buying them when I’m in the supermarket.
Before you embark on any change:
- first analyse how your environment is enabling the behaviour you want to change;
- then think about how you might be able to change it so the new behaviour is easier than the old.
Re-adjust the focus
When you’ve made the decision to make a change, what is in your mind? Most people think about the end result and picture their slimmed down figure; smoke-free life; organised office; great relationships with their team/manager/peers/family members; remaining calm in any stressful situation; – add your own change result here. And having a clear picture of what you want the result to be is important, it is your Why.
When the going gets tough, that picture won’t be enough to keep you going!
Every change requires a repetition of small actions and decisions carried out over a long period of time. If your change is to create better relationships with your team by being a better listener, the picture of the end result may not be helpful when you’re under the pump, stressed to the eyeballs, and one of your team is interrupting you – again.
You need to re-focus on the very short-term: what small thing can I do in the next hour, half-day, or this day, towards my change? Trust that a string of short-term focusses will get you to your end result.
How do you feel about celebrating when you’ve achieved progress? If you’re like me, I feel a tad uncomfortable and usually don’t make much of a fuss. And my natural tendency is to celebrate when I’ve achieved something big (like winning a new client).
In one of my favourite books on change: Switch, by Dan & Chip Heath, the concept of inch pebbles is used. As opposed to milestones.
If you re-focus on small actions you can take right now, and you successfully carry them out, you’ve achieved in inch pebble. And you should celebrate! It could be as simple as going to get a coffee, but do something nice.
Because what celebrating inch pebbles does, is make each small achievement memorable, by giving it attention. That creates a ‘bank’ of success experiences that builds the perception of yourself of someone who can make a change successfully. It builds your change-ability.
The change you are about to make is important; why else would you do it? So you make sure you succeed. Analysing how your environment could be changed first, then re-adjusting your focus to short-term, and celebrating all those small wins will keep you moving towards the result you want.