“Change is the only constant” is a mantra that has been engrained in almost every professional I have met. However, when you ask a leader how to help employees change, the response is often pin drop silence, but after some time, people often refer to the tested ‘carrot or stick’ approach. Reward the people that change and ignore or kick out the people that don’t. Philip Kotler, the change management guru, famously stated that only 30% of all change initiatives succeed. Few betting men would take these odds…
Almost all change initiatives require people to alter their behaviors. Taking action is the most difficult as we all know from our experience in trying to lose weight, exercise regularly, influence our teenagers to clean their rooms or even change the shopping habits of our spouse. Research into people trying to quit smoking, shows that only 17% are successful and never smoke again. And to prove that old habits die hard: even if people are confronted with a major physical crisis (e.g. a heart attack) less than one out of two are able to kick the habit.
We are creatures of habit. It gives us comfort, confidence and much needed stability to make sense of this fast changing world. Two books I recently read have helped me become better in advising companies on how to change behaviors. The most recent book “The Power of Habit” is written by New York Times business writer Charles Duhigg. He helps you understand how habits work and how you can change them, not only at an individual level but also on an organizational and societal level. So far, it is Amazon’s book of the year, so check it out.
However, my current favorite read is “Influencer: The Power To Change Anything” from Kerry Patterson. In this Patterson shares a very simple model on how you can influence behavior. Firstly. Patterson distinguishes two components that stop people from changing. They either don’t want it (motivation) or they don’t know how to (ability). Through powerful real life examples, Patterson helps you understand how you can influence behavior on a personal, social and structural level.
My personal favorite insight is the impact of distance on collaboration and where by changing the environment in which people operate you ‘force’ them to change their behavior. Bell Labs was interested in understanding what was the best predictor for scientist to work effectively and collectively, smash ideas together and build on each others concepts. The answer? Distance. Scientist who worked next to each other where 3 times more likely to discuss technical topics that lead to collaboration versus scientists sitting only 30 feet from one another. With a distance of only 90 feet, the collaboration dropped to levels similar as if they were working several miles away.
Many clients often complain about different functions within the company that don’t work well enough together. Using Patterson’s example I always advise them to make people, who need to accomplish something together, simply sit together. Companies like P&G and Unilever have taken this concept even further by making their cross-functional teams sit at their client premises. If you want to change behavior, don’t forget to think about changing your physical environment.
– Paul Keijzer