>Just try and make me change!

>I’ve been party to many conversations about behaviour and attitude change in the workplace.  This is because I’m in a line of work which not only advocates for it, but sets out to catalyse it.  There are a couple very important questions that deserve some consideration, however, and they are: Is behaviour change necessarily a good thing and who determines what that change should be?   


I can instantly think of cases where behaviour and attitude change is absolutely necessary and where the person in question would be given little choice about the changes to be made, for example, cases of workplace bullying or discrimination.  Human social groups always have and always will expect a standard of behaviour that they enforce.  This is not to say the person at the receiving end of any intervention will necessarily change, but in cases I’ve dealt with, they are left in no doubt that neither their attitude nor their behaviour is acceptable and that change is conditional to remaining part of that workplace.  


However, in the area of professional development, it requires an act of will on the part if the person to change. It is arrogant for anyone, be that the CEO, the HR Manager, the project manager or the consultant, to assume that you can make someone change just because you want them to, or you re-write the company manuals or you change systems and processes. People are not weak-willed and do not take kindly to being treated like puppets.  People also want to be the chief agents in their own lives, both at home and at work.  


If a change is called for, what is required is a good, solid ‘warm up’.  This means you make a good case for change, field people’s questions and anxieties, treat them with respect and allow them to engage their will.  Shifts in workplace culture, enhancements to systems and processes or the successful introduction of innovative ways of working will only really embed when people have taken these things into their hearts and minds.  We can, of course, enforce these kinds of changes and just tell them what to do, however what we get are compliant behaviours with low levels of real engagement, workplace dissatisfaction and disharmony and the lower productivity that ensues (until they leave, that is).  


So applying ‘warm up’ when seeking a change at work will create the fertile conditions for people to learn and change.  Sometimes, that is only the first step and there is further work to be done.  We have all been in situations where we really wanted to do something, we were excited about doing something new, we knew what we had to do…..but we just didn’t know how.  When our internal wiring stops us from enacting a change we actually want, the use of human technologies which aid people to ‘re-wire’ themselves can be invaluable.  Technologies such as role training or sociodrama can assist us, with our will fully engaged, to become the person we want to be. 

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4 thoughts on “>Just try and make me change!

  1. >John,Another excellent posting. The one thing I would add is that when people believe they can outstay the change or perhaps the initiator of the change, perhaps a new Senior Manager. In these circumstances they may well do the bare minimum to 'go along' with the proposed changes or at worst sabotage elements of it. I've seen this in relatively small scale operations but also believe it happens at a macro level too when a new government introduces policies that some sectors don't agree with. In this case, large commercial enterprises will see the longer term (longer than the next election) and ride out the changes, hoping they will 'go away' when the government changes. Or maybe I'm just a cynic at heart! Paul

  2. >Yes, Paul, sad but true. Thanks for adding this in, as I was just focussing on enabling change, but you're right that there will always be forces at work in any system which undermine or sabotage, whether consciously or unconsciously.John

  3. >Another thought stimulating post John. Taking your point that while most know "what" to do when executing change, just not "how" to do it, never before has it been more compelling to "humanise" our businesses to be engaging with internal people and customers. After eons of process and system automation, I suspect that businesses may have normed to a clinical approach to managing and operating themselves, often trivialising people as merely "human capital". Then taking Paul's train of thought, I concur, and especially in larger businesses (or govt), many who have yet to "buy into" the "why" of change, often conform because they "have to" and go with the ride without committment nor engagement. Looking around, it should be easy to identify several good examples of businesses who do all this well, and are customer inclusive. But is it? If the benefits and advantages are clear and significant, why are businesses still challenged with the "how" of change?

  4. >Thanks for posting Sukesh. Yes, the 'human capital' conversation is another one to address and the languaging in the whole HR realm bears some good scrutiny because it often truly reflects the real attitudes and behaviours organisations hold about their people. And I think there are some examples of organisations that do 'change' well, but in my experience they are few.John

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