Friday, 19 July 2013 13:54

Start Change Right and Create the Snowball Effect

To effect change, you must do something differently.

Start change in the right way, and you’ll enjoy a snowball effect that helps your team, direct reports and even family members implement change.

Business school professors Chip and Dan Heath cover the patterns all successful change efforts have in common in Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard (2010).

The Heaths avoid looking at the history of failed changes. Instead, they share stories of spectacular changes that worked because execution built upon prior achievements.

In researching significant social, educational, governmental, marital and organisational changes, the professors came up with a framework that anyone can apply in real-world business situations.

First Steps

In many ways, the first small steps you take to change your behaviour are the most important. Once you initiate change, it seems to feed on itself, as two psychological triggers are at work:

  1.     The mere exposure effect: The more you’re exposed to something, the more you like it. Initially unwelcome change efforts will gradually be perceived more favorably as people get used to them.
  2.     Cognitive dissonance: Once people take small steps, it’s increasingly difficult for them to dislike how they act. We don’t like to act in one way and think in another. And once we begin to behave differently, our self-perception changes and our identity evolves, which  reinforces our new approach.

The Snowball Effect

Such changes aren’t the result of “small wins.” Rather, they are automatic forces that kick in as time passes. It’s therefore essential to start as soon as possible and take advantage of the momentum.

While inertia and the status quo may exert an irresistible pull, at this point you need to muster the courage and just do it. Just get it started. Your first attempt doesn’t have to be perfect or complete. At some point, inertia will shift from resisting change to supporting it, and small changes will snowball into big changes.

Recognise up front that it’s human nature to focus on the negative. As you review the behaviour you wish to change, it’s only natural to think of what’s not working. When competing for brain space, bad thoughts easily beat out good ones.

In an exhaustive study of 558 words that represent emotions, 62 percent were negative versus 38 percent positive. When we learn something bad about someone, we pay closer attention to it and remember it longer. The negative receives greater weight when we assess a person.

In another analysis, researchers examined 17 studies concerning how people explained events in their lives. Across all domains—work, politics, sports, personal—people were more likely to spontaneously bring up negative events versus positive ones.

The Problem with Problems

Focus on what’s broken, and you’ll come up with a long list of things that need to be fixed. In reality, you can’t always fix everything. Sometimes there’s simply no time, budget or realistic deadline for a major overhaul.

Some things may never be completely fixed, and you’ll have to tolerate them — but this doesn’t exclude picking one key behavioural change that can vastly improve both short- and long-term results.

Marcus Buckingham, author of Go Find Your Strengths, urges readers to make the most of their strengths, rather than obsessing over their weaknesses. Despite our natural human tendency to focus on the negative, we can make an effort to override it.

Do More of What’s Working

Start by identifying what is working, and do more of it.  Replicate the behaviours that get optimum results, and set new goals that continue to up the ante.

Many people believe change is hard and must be complicated. Psychotherapy, as originally designed, involved three to five weekly sessions, during which people discussed their thoughts over several years. But people rarely made behavioural changes; they just began to understand why they behaved in certain ways.

More recently, coaching techniques focus more on people defining their key strengths, identifying what’s working and following action plans.

By doing more of the little things that work, they create better relationships and successful behavioural changes. When you ask, “What’s working, and how can you do more of it?” you enjoy better results in less time.

Start with the Beginning in Mind

Perhaps the famous Stephen Covey maxim, “Begin with the end in mind,” needs to be revised: Start with the beginning and the end in mind.

Both are important. Without a destination goal, it’s harder to stay motivated and on track.

In researching their classic business book Built to Last, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras discovered that solid companies with sustained success had BHAGs: big, hairy, audacious goals.

Goals need to be specific and evoke emotions. Use both your rational and emotional brain when setting goals so they make sense and connect to strong desires.

Unleash the Snowball Effect

  1.     Identify which behaviours work better than others.
  2.     Investigate and then replicate successes.
  3.     Start with a small change, and make it specific.
  4.     Give yourself direction by providing your start and finish.
  5.     Energise yourself by identifying the feelings of the finish.
  6.     Cultivate a sense of identity that reflects your new growth.
  7.     Change your situation; tweak your environment, as needed.
  8.     Build habits. When something works, repeat it.
  9.     Get support. Behaviour is contagious, so help it spread.

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