How to become the drivers of change

BY Archana Law

Albert Einstein is widely credited with saying that “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.”

Changing how things get done can be a powerful performance enhancing tool. But achieving desirable shifts in habits and routines can be extremely tricky, and even baffling. Part of the problem involves a lack of understanding of what concepts and practices work while others are hard to attain.

If you’re an innovative leader who seeks a competitive advantage that can’t be easily replicated, a game changer who does things beyond the norm in order to achieve more or an individual who is comfortable exploring new dimensions, read on!

EXECUTION History clearly shows that many great ideas need more than awareness to gain traction – when we attempt to improve performance while neglecting what it takes to really make behaviour change happen.

Dr. Atul Gawande noted in Slow Ideas (2013) that according to a report in the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal of 1846, anaesthesia had been used to eliminate pain during operations around the world. However, the widespread adoption of disinfection took much longer to materialise.

Similarly, a 2008 Harvard Business Review (HBR) survey involving 125,000 participants across 50 plus countries found that some 60 percent of the companies surveyed rated their organisational execution as weak.

Though this sounds shocking, something as basic as appropriate behaviour was required to execute superior strategy, maximise processes and embrace technology – so simple, yet difficult.

BEHAVIOUR Influencing behavioural change, which is dismissed as ‘soft stuff,’ isn’t easy. For example, in 2006 a group of 30 Irish CEOs at a government sponsored executive education programme were asked to list topics covered by the course that they felt would help them gain a significant competitive advantage.

The only two topics at the top of the list were leadership and culture.

Understanding why we do what we do may shed light on the many organisational initiatives that never actually take root even though the benefits seem clear to all concerned.

Painstaking analysis of high performers, dozens of meetings to spread those best practices throughout a company and investments in propagating productivity messages have few but inconsistent followers.

In fact, companies may dramatically underperform because leaders at multiple levels fail to proactively encourage desired behaviour and discourage undesired ones.

Though there’s no shortage of ideas for what we would like changed, making the change is a different story. To be good drivers of change in ourselves, we can start by learning how to create practices that support different thought patterns.

REFLECTION It’s critical to set aside some quiet reflective time daily when trying to make a serious behavioural change. This time allows us to think clearly and visualise possibilities. We can’t accomplish what we can’t imagine.

Author Daniel H. Pink talks about the phenomenon of ‘functional fixedness.’ This occurs when we have a hard time seeing alternatives because we’re overly focussed on the most obvious answer. When we reduce the noise in our brain, we’re better able to gain new insights.

SOLUTIONS Our culture often encourages an over-focus on thrashing out what happened and why, whenever something goes wrong in the workplace. But we have a greater chance of progressing if we focus on solutions rather than problems.

If we keep our attention focussed on what failed, those thoughts will dominate our thinking. On the flip side, if we choose to focus on possibilities, those thoughts become more prevalent. The solutions will come from your potential, not the pitfalls of the past.

INSPIRATION More time for reflection means fresh opportunities for new insights. The burst of adrenaline we get from forming new mental connections releases positive brain chemicals and gives us a rush of creative energy.

Acting on that jolt of creativity is helpful when trying to make a change. Capture the great ideas, let them percolate and then commit yourself to executing what feels most right to you.

MOVEMENT Take the first step… even if it’s a small one. Change can be hard because it’s a big hill of uncertainty to climb. To begin with, instead of focussing on major transformations, try conquering smaller incremental changes.

According to neuroscientist Earl Miller, making the first move (and seeing success from it) has a major impact on the brain. Our brains learn fast about what makes us succeed so we can repeat it.

If we want to create lasting behavioural change, we should lose the all-or-nothing mentality. Successful change comes only in stages and the length of time it takes depends on the individual.