The Delicate Nature of Change – Part II

There is a rhythm to change, Change is a Good Thinga constant beating of progress and recess that captures the manner of the thing. Imprecise, certainly, and predictable, always. The truth of change starts with the truth of now, as I outlined in “The Delicate Nature of Change – Part I.” But what to do next? How do you take knowledge and put it into purposeful action?

In its purest sense, navigating change is delving into habit, reframing the cues that elicit an automated response and then hard coding those new responses for the future. I’ve spoken in a prior blog of Charles Duhigg’s brilliant book “The Power of Habit” which outlines the conditioned way we move through life in a continual cycle of cue, routine and reward. Our ability to run on perpetual auto-pilot is astounding, even if that route leads us to poor health, bad relationships and failed ambition.

We want change, and our institutions want change, because we are tired of not achieving what we want to achieve. When a person declares she needs to change, her circle of participants is small. I’m talking herself, perhaps her spouse or family, maybe her friends. When a company declares it needs to change, the circle of participants is much larger. Which gets us back to what I mentioned in the last blog about organizational attitude: Do people believe change is needed? Do they trust it will be done right? Do they want to participate or just sit on the sidelines and watch?

Lasting change starts with seeing the small, delicate and nagging realities that lie at the heart of an organization’s ability to truly accept change: will, trust and commitment. To get to this realization requires a period of non-judgmental, honest observation. Then, and only then, can a group  come to terms with the scope of the endeavor. You can clearly articulate the organization’s will, trust and commitment. You can create the first steps toward revising the organization’s habits. You can start to create change.

Maybe you discover through your observations that the organization has the will, the trust and the commitment to start the change effort. Maybe you find that it must cycle through attitudinal change first. Regardless of the answer, the habit-reframing principles you should adhere to are the same: Frequency, Consistency and Honesty.

Let’s use an example to illustrate these principles in action.

Your company’s innovation practices are overly complicated. A new idea must go through multiple committees, rigorous scoping exercises and countless management “buy-in” conversations before it reaches formal review and approval. Granted, a little bit of process is a good thing but too much of it is not. Streamlining the innovation process had been discussed internally for a long time and the call for a major change effort was growing.

But you sense something is not lining up. The very people calling for change are the same ones who just added a new committee to the innovation process. Instead of leaping feet first into a formal change program, you realize that leadership’s will and commitment are unsteady, and embarking on a structured program would likely have detrimental effects on the organization’s level of trust. Bravely using interviews, inquiry and diagnostic change tools, you discover the deeper reasons for the misalignment. Once identified, you begin to work with leadership to identify the actions they are willing and committed to take to change their habit – in this case, the habit of relying on structured governance to gain alignment when a mix of formal and informal dialogue would do just fine.

Change, as we know, does not happen smoothly. It happens it fits and starts. This is why even after leadership agrees to refashion their habitual response to creating alignment you keep the pressure on. Using the principles outlined above, here is how to make the first level of attitudinal change stick:

  • Frequency: It’s all about the numbers, as in how many informal conversations are being held by leaders vs. pushing all interaction to the formal meeting structure. How diligently are leaders acting to take certain conversations offline?
  • Consistency: How often is the new method of gaining alignment reinforced and supported among leaders? The answer to this question speaks to their true level of change commitment.
  • Honesty: Stuff happens. Things don’t go according to plan. Do your leaders admit when they miss the mark, using it as an opportunity to refocus and recommit?

Change is delicate because it calls on us to look honestly at ourselves, and then commit to something that feels uncomfortable. Plainly put, it is oftentimes distinctly un-fun. For those who know how to manage through it and thrive, the discomfort becomes integral to the experience, and it fades as the benefits roll in. For those who refuse to see the challenge, through either active obstinance or passive obfuscation, the discomfort of not doing anything eventually becomes all they see.



















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