The Inconvenient Truth About Change – Part Two

Brains hates change because it’s seen as potentially dangerous, the prospect of reward too uncertain and it stinks of effort.

Achieving effective, enduring and positive change is about managing this biological process in order to shift the way we think and lead to a change in behaviour.

No wonder change can be tricky.

In part one of this blog, we examined how to reduce the size of the threat that change poses to the brain. In part two, it’s time to look at what can maximise the potential reward.

Not all change is seen as hard, difficult or a waste of time. Change is normal, a constant and frequently desired as a change of scene or seen as a time of renewal and new opportunity.

Ways to help us to see that potential reward include:

Seeking First to Understand

It’s far easier to ‘get’ what a proposed change is all about when you can visualise it. That mental picture helps you to see its overarching purpose, providing the WHY it’s important.

Next get yourself along to the change auditions. Not everyone will get (or necessarily wants) the lead role in the change story, but there will be lots of other parts available for you to be involved with. Once you have your copy of the change song sheet it’s easier to determine which individual strengths will be most useful to you to use and WHAT your change role will entail.

Then it’s about getting hold of the planned roadmap so you can see HOW to get to the destined change, along with a couple of alternative paths if the preferred route turns out to be a poor choice.

Tell a story

According to Jennifer Aaker a story is up to x22 more memorable than facts and figures alone. Stories get us to listen and if well told will influence or persuade our thinking

So if you’ve got a change story to share, get good at story telling.

Earlier this year I was lucky enough to spend some time in beautiful Copenhagen exploring what leads to greater happiness at work. While there I visited SEB a Swedish bank and pension fund that had initiated a Happiness at Work program in 2012.

What I discovered was:

1. The change was led from within. While the CEO had given their full support, it was the small band of change agents within the company that led the charge, not a lone change hero.

2. While everyone was invited to join the initiative, not everyone did and that was O.K. When change is an imposition it’s less likely to succeed, so make it an invitation instead and accept everyone’s reply.

3. The change agents spoke frequently about the why, what and how, then listened deeply to what was or wasn’t being said before formulating a set of goals that they took action on.

4. The program was highly visible with a 12 month spread sheet of weekly activities that was frequently updated and reviewed to see what was working well and what wasn’t.

5. They kept sharing the change story over and over, checking in frequently to see how it was being received. Communicate, communicate, communicate always. As George Bernard Shaw reminds us

The single biggest challenge to effective communication is the illusion it has taken place

The initiative was highly successful, productivity and performance skyrocketed, and the CEO was pretty happy too as business continued to boom.

Make it a team sport

Change is much more fun as a collective team sport. Start by channelling enthusiasm and kindle the desire to explore new horizons by piquing curiosity.

This can channel a tidal surge of momentum. Barack Obama used this very successfully in his 2008 election bid for the American Presidency with his simple but highly effective mantra “Yes we can.”

Make progress visible and celebrate ALL wins

“Look how far we’ve come!” Pressing pause to review progress is highly motivating to make you want to continue along the change path. We are impatient for reward. Just like kids on long car journeys repeatedly asking “Are we nearly there yet?” getting to your destination can feel too far off. Checking in early on progress rewards your brain with that lovely zing of dopamine that motivates you to keep going.

Authors of the Progress Principle Amabile and Kramer have revealed too, how celebrating many small wins is far more motivating than waiting for the end of term party.

Remember also to celebrate at the church of failure. Practising failing fast and furiously takes the sting out of failure’s tail, reduces the associated fear and helps prevent you from slipping back into inertia.

Make Change Normal

Making change normal, small and routine is the catalyst to enable change to become part of workplace culture.

Make it fun. Be willing to experiment. Change can get a bit messy but you can always clean up afterwards. If you’re enjoying the process, you’ll not only want to keep going, you’ll be keen to look for more.

Changing our world-view about change is about seeking to reduce threat and maximise reward.

What have you found helpful in your workplace to allow change initiatives to launch effectively and be completed?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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