Five strategies to boost change

We are struggling across the globe with behaviour change in organisations. And there is a simple reason for this. The one size fits all planned approach to change does not work. Learning new skills is completely different from breaking habits or the socialisation into new groups and communities. A tailored approach is needed, depending on the type of change, with the proper focus on internal and external driving forces. These five clear-cut strategies can help you decide on which approach to take.


Habits change by simultaneously breaking old and learning new routines. It is a matter of relearning. So how is this done? Repeating the same behaviour causes a habitual loop of signal, routine and reward. Something in the environment triggers an automatic response that results in a satisfying sensation and good feeling. To break this loop we have to attentively avoid the triggers that activate the routine, deliberately act differently when sensing the urge to automatically react and actively reward the new routine. So if you want to break patterns and introduce a new way of working in the organisation, be sure to address the three phases of the habitual loop. Emphasize the role of conscious thought, making everyone responsible to break their own working patterns.


Learning new skills is a matter of practice. The focus lies on acquiring new capabilities through experience. We learn a skill only by trial and error. No matter how hard we try to intervene, this too someone has to do themselves. But bear in mind, within three weeks new neural pathways fade to their original level, unless the experience is repeated. So frequency is paramount. That is why classroom training without a direct learning platform in daily practice is pointless.


Humans are social beings that adapt to their social surroundings. We learn much by observing others and imitating what they do. Unnoticed we copy the mannerisms of the company we keep and take over their language and practices. Everyone has experienced this when entering a new organisation or starting a different position. In the first few weeks newcomers frown and wonder about all the things that are new to them. After a few months the common practices are no longer questioned and taken over. The only prerequisite is frequent physical exposure. This type of change is always essential in mergers & acquisitions.


A completely different type of behavioural change is remodelling our self-image. Our sense of self is based on the idea of having to be someone, besides the person we think we ought to be and the individual we are striving to become. These beliefs turn into convictions that control behaviour. The concept of having to be a certain person precludes becoming someone else. In this way an employee will generally not see himself as a leader or manager of his own change. For that, new labels are needed that someone can identify with, like the (un)changeables, innovators or inspirationals. Change the label to highlight the desired behaviour and apply social marketing to make it stick.


Our worldview and perception of someone or something greatly influences what we do. That is why reframing helps to change behaviour. Reframing is taking a fresh point of view and seeing things in a different light. Or we can simply relabel someone or something, for example from hostile to friendly. It will transform the way we react. Politicians constantly relabel to make a point. Public services are using it by renaming patients and civilians as clients. So what would happen to the way employees behave when superiors and bosses are called differently?

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