Clare Roberts and Dr Jamie Ward
PA Consulting Group
13 May 2008
Understand what drives behaviours
When seeking to create behavioural change we need to recognise the influence of the 'organisational mindset'. When working in an organisation, people often subtly accept and absorb the pervading values, beliefs and parameters of others who they are working with and this is reflected in how they carry out their job.
The values and beliefs that pervade an organisation, and make up the organisational mindset, build up over time through the actions, messages and decisions of people, and most influentially, of the leaders, who (whether intentionally or not) set the tone of the organisation's culture.
People's thoughts and feelings, guided by beliefs around what the organisation values, will often drive the behaviour that impacts negatively on performance. Ignoring the fact that changing how people work is about changing the underpinning mindset or values as well as behaviours is to invite failure.
How do you achieve behavioural change?
Creating behavioural change across an organisation is not easy, but it is possible with the right tools and techniques. In applying any of the steps described below, it is important to remember that in our experience, revolutionary change (where lots of change initiatives happen at the same time) is less successful than incremental change (where changes are built upon the ones that went before).
Identify what you need to change and make the argument compelling
First you need to identify what currently happens in the organisation – and specifically, the ways of working that you want to change. To bring this about, people need to have a clear picture of the desired outcome, the vision: it needs to be courageous and seductive; one that not only sets out the new ways of working, but one that inspires people, which sets out the new values and beliefs, and defines the new organisational mindset. Individuals need to hear what's in it for them, in terms they can relate to. And where behaviour change is not optional, they also need to know the consequences of not doing it.
Recognise the issues of individual resistance
When attempting to change organisation-wide behaviours there will be issues of individual resistance which must be considered. For example, while habits can be useful to enable people to deal with routine tasks efficiently, the degree of security they provide can often mean that changes to them will be opposed. Being aware of the source of individual resistance can help to structure and communication interventions appropriately.
Engage change leaders at every level
Change leaders play a critical role in communicating the change and blazing the trail for modelling new ways of working. Leaders at all levels within the organisation need to cascade and enrol their staff into the overall vision, and then actively demonstrate the specific new behaviours needed to make it real.
However during a process of change, the leaders themselves are often unsure. They say the right things, but, somehow, they are not that believable. In their hearts and minds there is resistance to the desired new mindset, a sense that the old order is better, and that the new path requires much effort for little personal or financial reward. Therefore early work with the leadership team, helping them to articulate and address their personal concerns and worries, pays dividends. Once the leaders are really up for it, your chances of success are infinitely greater.
Change the way that people talk about the organisation
To succeed in culture change, particularly in large organisations, it doesn't work to rely solely on the senior leadership team to drive the change. You need to mobilise 'kindred spirits', to engage people at all levels in the organisation who buy into the new values, who understand, and who will be strong role models.
Creating this critical mass of people, reaching the tipping point, delivers the groundswell you need to move the organisational mindset. Approaches that have worked well include storytelling techniques, helping managers to craft the messages that they give to their staff and developing a new language to describe the new ways of working.
Unfreeze the culture with a significant action
An organisation's culture, when the organisation is in a steady state, is 'frozen' to some extent. If you want to change the culture, or an aspect of it, you need to go through a process of unfreezing the culture, and then refreezing it along the lines of the future desired vision.
If you are serious about getting people to behave differently, you have to signal this intent conspicuously to all individuals in the organisation, challenging both behaviours, but also potentially deeply held values. Bold, meaningful actions from leaders to demonstrate the new ways of working will speak volumes. Sometimes this also means using the power of signs and symbols – changing or removing specific features that have become associated with outdated beliefs.
Redirect the energy of the organisation
The emotional context, or energy state, of the organisation is particularly important in a change situation, and crucially can be harnessed to good effect. Emotions such as excitement, inspiration, motivation and enthusiasm are what give a change programme the positive energy to succeed.
On the flip side, negative emotions such as aggression, tiredness and comfort can drain energy from the organisation and work against the change required. Often, organisations fail to address behavioural change effectively because they adopt largely left-brained solutions, often couched in terms of 'science' or 'logic'. Purposefully harnessing the power of emotions in the organisation can become a powerful process for change.
Success in behavioural change is ultimately about engaging both hearts and minds. If you do this, your organisation's ability to meet the challenges of the change will be assured. More than that, you will release unexpected energy and creativity, and the journey itself will become exciting.