Updated: May 29
The coronavirus pandemic has sparked radical change, dismantling what was normality at dizzying speed. Countless rules of work, of leadership, and of how we live more generally have been ripped up with everything from coffee breaks to weddings taking place online. Some of these changes will entirely re-shape our worlds, some won’t, but ahead of a rush to return to ‘normal’ it is worth stopping to consider what kind of new normal we want.
In our last blog we highlighted the need to take some considered action to create longer term change. In this blog we look at how, offering some thoughts and insights to keep in mind for your next change.
Keep it Simple
Aside from being sage advice, simplicity is the key to mobilising large numbers of people. For example, traffic. Generally, we all follow a set of simple rules; we stop at the red lights, go at the green, and either slow down or speed up at the amber. Similarly consider the ongoing pandemic. Whilst the ramifications are indescribably complex, our behaviours have changed at the speed and scale that most change agents dream of. Again, this has been possible through our actions being guided by simple rules; only go outside for food, health reasons or work, if you go out stay 2m away from other people and wash your hands as soon as you get home.
These simple rules provide a degree of freedom to choose our own ‘how’ of change, whilst ensuring that individual responses are within scope of collective reason and possibility.
Make it Desirable
Despite the staggering volume of facts and figures we often generate in order to make decisions; we actually make decisions to change first emotionally and then rationally. When the prospect of change is only communicated through rational, intellectual argument it is highly likely that this change will not happen. I’m sure that we can all recall ‘calls to action’ that were framed only around financials and lacked a compelling narrative; I’m sure that we can then also recall just how hard it was to progress the change.
Even when the outcomes of change are desirable, the process often isn’t. Change involves us moving out of the safety of what is known, what is comfortable, and it requires a lot of effort. We all know that we need to eat healthily and exercise, but we don’t all do it. Yet if we can feel a positive impact shortly after we’ve started to change, such as the rush of endorphins or fitting back into those jeans, then we can then use that to keep us motivated. Over time the change becomes easier, we adjust, and the change becomes habitual.
We don’t move out of our comfort zones easily, but we do when there is emotional appeal at a personal level to get us shifting, and an ongoing fun factor (or at least a personal reward factor) to keep us motivated.
Make it Easy
We are drawn to what is fun, fast and familiar. We prefer what we already know and what requires the least effort for us, even at the expense of our longer-term ambitions. There are two simple, yet extremely effective ways forward here; The first is to make the new way as easy as possible by clearing the path. Some people lay their gym kit out the night before so that it’s the easiest thing to put on in the morning, others even sleep in their kit so that working out becomes as easy as possible.
As well as removing obstacles to make change easier, we can also use the reverse technique of adding obstacles to make the old, comfy ways harder. I used to print lots of papers, particularly when I wanted to review a document. I don’t anymore, not because I’m being a more responsible citizen, but because I no longer have ready access to a printer. Using this logic, it might be quicker and more effective to downsize the office when creating a culture of home working rather than writing a new policy.
Whichever route we choose, we do need to remember that the old adage of ‘one change leads to another’ is true, because once change starts it feeds on itself like a snowball rolling down a hill. Rather than trying to control the snowball, guiding with the simple rules, and adapting and responding along the journey will enable momentum to be maintained in the right direction.
Use the Power of the Group
We are social beings wired for connection, belonging and inclusion; we don’t like to be the odd ones out. Our behaviour is heavily influenced by how we perceive ‘people like us’ or ‘people we admire/want to emulate’ behave. We can think back to the famous clip of the lone dancer on the hill, to see just how contagious behaviour is (watch it here if you’ve not see it). And we only need look at recent examples such as the staggering amount of money that Captain Tom raised, and the response that he received, to see the impact that these movements can have.
Movements don’t start out big, they start small but grow rapidly as they attract more and more people to their cause. Starting small with the right people who have courage, energy and influence is critical to get your change moving, and getting out of their way is often critical to keep it moving.
We’ve explored a number of key factors for effective change, and have also raised some questions for you to consider in your next change; How you will keep change simple? How will you rally the herd? And how will you make the process of change as rewarding and easy as possible?
A potentially bigger question is, how will you let go? Starting small and letting go can feel counter-intuitive when trying to create big, important change. In our experience, when we’ve focused on change being simple, easy and rewarding, people have mobilised rapidly and with great effect. When we’ve shifted from a management control focus to people leadership, we’ve seen changes that have surpassed all of our expectations.