Behavior drives Change

How do you manage the constant change projects going on in your organization or with clients? If you’re like most leaders, consultants, and organizations, you focus on change as a single project, on tools and templates, and you rely on scattered data to measure if the change works.

The view that I promote and practice is the holistic, behavioral view. Change is not a neatly defined project, but more often, a constant learning process. It happens in a situation that’s packed with other priorities and deadlines that people have to deal with. We don’t need more structures, schedules, procedures, and projects – more boxes to tick. We aim for real, sticky change.
That’s why I recommend to find the behaviors that will make change happen and that are easy to do, even when you’re busy and on autopilot. (See my books Organizational
Culture Change, and Developing a Positive Culture). That’s why I focus on Positive Leadership.

My behavioral approach is shared by Michelle Yanahan, Principal and Owner of ChangeFit360, who gave a Webinar organized by Change Management Review.

She offers a concise introduction to the behavior approach to change and illustrates the uncomfortable truth that organizations don’t change if leaders and associates don’t change.

Pavlov’s Pillars

You probably know Pavlov’s experiment with the dog that was trained to expect food when a bell rang. There’s a trigger or predecessor (the bell). Then the behavior takes place (the dog salivates). To sustain it, you need positive reinforcement and consequences (the dog is fed).
Behavior is an action that we do with the goal to gain or avoid something. Most behaviors are learned from others, and they are observable and measurable.

Organizational change comes down to people changing behaviors: start or stop doing specific actions. In organizations, the predecessors to new behaviors could be doing a pilot with something new, communication about the change, a readiness assessment, offering training, procedures and process maps, job aids, and guides. On average, leaders and consultants spend 60-70% of the time on these preparations – and then they hope that people change.

The other pillar to behavior change, however, are Reinforcement and Consequences. These could be feedback, coaching, tangible rewards, a pay raise, bonus or promotion, a performance plan, or a pay cut (eventually). On average, leaders and consultants spend 20% of their time on reinforcement, during change.

Reinforcement to keep it up

Is that enough? You get it. It’s not. Yanahan uses the book “The behavior breakthrough,” by Steve Jacobs and colleagues. Jacobs’ research shows how most professionals spend more time preparing before launching a change – and how the 80-20 paradox applies. 20% of the results come from predecessors, 80% of success is in reinforcement and consequences!

Reinforcement and consequences is a carrots and sticks approach (reward and punishment). In my experience, this needs to be accompanied by leaders being the change. Simply put: Don’t tell others what to do – do it yourself and lead the way. “Be the change.”
I agree with Yanahan that we need to help leaders understand this behavior approach to change.

Identify Behavior

To reinforce the critical behavior for change success, you need to identify critical behaviors. Next, leaders might need coaching for behavior change. Lastly, we measure behavior that matters.
In my approach to positive culture change, we do this in OCAI Workshops or Change Circles. But it might be easier said than done to find the behavior that makes the difference. Seemingly trivial behaviors can be crucial to the culture or the change process. We’re often blinded by structures and processes and don’t notice behavior patterns.

Yanahan offers a great example. If you were to increase sales with 10% for the next Quarter, which action would you do first?

  1. Count logins into CRM sales system
  2. Count inactive customers in CRM
  3. Schedule a new order for 1000 products by November
  4. Interview salespeople for advice
  5. Count new customers’ demographic information

During the webinar, people opted for interviewing salespeople. But scheduling a new order might be the “best” critical action to reach the goal. It’s specific and focused on behaviors. It means you start taking action to book that new order, any way you can. This exercise shows that it’s not always easy to identify the critical behavior and make it specific. This aligns with my experience in workshops when we ask the million-dollar question:

What’s the behavior in this organization that would make a difference if the majority did it?

Reinforce and Measure Behaviors

Coaching leaders to reinforce behavior changes is crucial. As Yanahan states: “80% of the success of your change depends on the leaders.” Daily role-modeling (being the change) and coaching toward new behaviors is key. When associates see that managers care about the change, make it a priority, and help them do it and reward it – they’re more likely to put in the effort. Show them what you would like them to do, too!

The Google oxygen study from 2008 might motivate leaders who think this is soft stuff. Google found that the best teams have leaders that do these behaviors:
1. be a good communicator and listen
2. support clear vision and strategy
3. empower their team, don’t micromanage
4. create an inclusive team climate
5. encourage career development
6. be results-focused
7. be a good coach
8. collaborates across the organization
9. be strong decision-makers
10. have basic technical skills

As you may notice, most of the “winning” leadership behaviors are “soft” skills. Last but not least, when we measure behaviors: please keep the positive or appreciative mindset activated. In other words: use measurement to find what people are doing right! Use more carrots than sticks (that’s better for a safe, open-to-change culture as well).
Use the metrics to recognize and reward the behaviors that sustain the change and deliver a return on investment.

Do you want to start today with coaching your people? Enroll in the Positive Culture Academy.

Or register for the 3-day Culture Change Leadership workshop in May 2020. The early bird offer is valid now, and you’ll learn how to focus on behavior change!

© Marcella Bremer, 2019. All rights reserved.

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