Most teams make the classic mistake of taking their foot off the gas in their change initiatives when things actually start to change. They commit to change, work hard to make changes and then at the most critical moment when things start to improve and change, they abandon the rigor, discipline and focus that brought them to the change in the first place.
This is a typical human behavior that most or all of us are guilty of from time to time.
How many of you can relate to the following example: You decide to lose weight and/or get into physical shape. You sign up to the gym, hire a personal trainer and perhaps even a nutritionist and off you go. You make a big effort to stay the course, you are zealous about complying with your exercise and healthy eating routines and you make sure to not get distracted or discouraged by challenging moments. It takes time, and at first, you don’t see the benefits. However, after a while your efforts pay off – you start to feel and see the difference. Your body looks trimmer, you feel lighter, you are eating healthier, and overall you are on a new trend. You feel amazing because the progress you made is beyond anything you have done in previous attempts.
BUT then, at the height of your success, you start rounding corners. You skip gym sessions, you stop being strict about what you eat and you allow old habits to creep in. At first, you justify your lapses with excuses such as: “I am doing so well, I can afford a little indulgence”. However, before you know it you are well on your way downhill, you have ruined your new established discipline and routine, you are eating badly and gaining weight again and the worst things is you have become cynical and resigned again.
What most teams go through when taking on fundamental culture and behavior change is the same dynamic.
Unfortunately, the reality relating to change initiatives is even more dire. Most teams don’t even stay the course in their change initiatives for long enough to get to the stage of seeing real changes. The sadder news is that the few fortunate teams who do reach change, don’t do a good job at turning their new reality into the new norm.
The simple answer is that most teams simply don’t understand and appreciate the source and nature of change.
The source of change is sustained commitment in action. This means declaring your commitment and then forcing yourself to behave consistent with it, no matter what. This inevitably involves doing things you are not used to doing, you don’t feel comfortable doing, and you don’t enjoy or feel competent doing.
In the health example, this means things like: eating healthy, counting your fat or calories, and going to the gym 4 times a week, rain or shine with no excuses.
In organizational change this means things like: telling the truth about what is not working – including about yourselves, discussing it, promising specific actions to fix it, meeting on a frequent basis to track progress and take accountability, no matter what, listening to others’ feedback, and continuing to identify the next areas for change.
Sustained means staying the course, but not just when you are hoping for change. The most important time is after you already see the benefits of change.
Don’t confuse the talk about commitment and the actions of commitment. Commitment without action is worthless. In fact, it is worse than no commitment at all.
The nature of change is that the minute you stop focusing on and nurturing the source the benefits will cease and you will start declining.
It’s like a flower, the minute you stop watering and nurturing the roots, the flowers will wilt and no new flowers will blossom.
Seems simple enough, right? Leaders understand this conceptually, but most don’t seem to get it or embrace it. That is why the minute they see results and feel good about things they abandon the uncomfortable hard work and start believing that things will stay changed without the rigor, discipline and focus that took them out of their comfort zone but brought them the benefits of change in the first place.
A CEO that I worked with summed it up very eloquently: “Everyone wants the benefits of change, but no one is willing to do what it takes!”