Putting Change into Action
One of the interesting things about human beings is that most of us are creatures of habit. We like doing the same things, even if our choices are not always taking us in a good direction.
So, when it comes to changes initiated by others at work, such changes can be particularly challenging.
We know we are more engaged with change when there is open communication about the changes, when we are given good reasons for the change, when we have a greater say and some control, when we are engaged at an emotional level, and the environment is supportive of the new ways of working.
So, assuming people have been engaged with the need for change, how can we encourage people to start behaving differently? Here are 7 factors for you to consider:
Leaders setting the example: When people are unsettled by change, they tend to look to their leaders for support and guidance. So it is essential that leaders change first and model the attitudes and behaviour they want to see in others. It is also important they use their relationships to give support and influence formal and informal leaders to cooperate with the changes required.
Allocate time: Here change leaders are allocating time for learning about the changes and releasing staff to attend training programs about new ways of working. Or they are helping people to manage their time, setting priorities for their work, so they can do what is required. Or discussions are held to free up people’s time - about what team members will stop doing - so they have the time to practise new ways of working.
Take small steps: To get people moving with change, it has to be easy until it gains momentum. So small steps forward will help people to take action sooner. Remember that if people have been dealing with a lot of change, this takes energy and self-control of which people have a limited supply. In this case, making change easy becomes even more important.
Where possible, allow individuals to choose what they will do and a timeframe for those actions. Alternatively, there may be a shared understanding of a few key behaviours that will be practised by everyone in the team. Otherwise, communicate very clear expectations about the early actions required and a timeframe for these. Keeping a written record of what is agreed can be helpful in keeping people on track and promoting accountability.
Notice what works: Here attention is paid to any progress in implementing change – how people found the time, accommodated the changes, and overcame the challenges, for example. Here a simple question is being asked: ‘What is already working and how can we do more of it?’ Particular attention might be paid to your star performers who are implementing the changes well. If people are not aware of what they are doing that is helping, you might ask them to notice anything they do that helps.
Link behaviours: If we can link a new behaviour to a well-established behaviour, the new behaviour often becomes easier. For example, in hospitals, you may have noticed a linking behaviour with nurses - each time they need to physically handle a patient, they put on gloves. In an office, it could be that after each coffee break, they give a follow-up call to an important client. Consider how you can link a new behaviour with an existing behaviour.
Record and reinforce your progress: People often minimise the progress that has been made. So, it can be motivating for individuals to keep a record of actions taken and their progress. Checklists can be an effective way of both helping people to remember the key behaviours and affirming the actions they have taken.
Try to reinforce progress as soon as it occurs, finding ways of valuing effort in ways that are meaningful to the individual. Remember that even small steps deserve recognition. So take every opportunity to reinforce progress.
- Hold people accountable: People need to be followed up to see how they are going and held accountable if they are not doing what has been agreed. This needs to be done sensitively, as there may well be legitimate barriers. Your written records of what was agreed will be useful in such discussions. The action plan can be revised, as needed, with a backup plan if there are difficulties in meeting the new timeframe.