“The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Is this true or just an excuse when we fail to change? Consider how a new year brings hope, excitement — and resolutions that we often fail to follow. After a rough night out, we swear never to over-indulge again. As we pull out of the fast food drive-through, we promise to improve our diet. Typically, we fall back into bad habits as the ease of sticking to our old ways overpowers our desire to change.
In the professional world, change management planning is the process of ensuring that the benefit of a change is realized. The transition from the current state to a future state does not happen solely by itself and needs proper preparation and execution.
Why is change so difficult? At its core, change is intrinsically personal. While organizations may collectively seek to change, the decision resides at the individual level. As we seek to change behaviors, we need to incorporate three actions to succeed:
1. Engage Boldly
You may not have heard about the “Green Hotels Association” but you may have been influenced by it. Hotel guests now often reuse their towels, thanks in great part to the signs in many hotels featuring “Save Our Planet” in bold, attention-catching font to explain the benefits. Catching the attention of guests is critical, since most mundane acts like drying off are done on auto-pilot; a boring message would likely miss the mark. Meekly suggesting the action during the customer’s check-in would not be as effective.
2. Communicate Early and Often
Do you commute via Sacramento Light Rail? The service is shifting to a Connect Transit Card usable across various regional networks. The initiative began last fall with “teaser messages” to pique interest before rolling out the machines and cards and associated website, posters and brochures. It’s not surprising that marketing and communications are key components of change planning — as a general rule, people only remember something upon hearing it multiple times (1880s advertising maven Thomas Smith pegged it at 20 times, while General Electric’s Herbert Krugman claimed the frequency of three was enough). When planning a change, remember not everyone picks up on it right away. Reinforcement is needed.
3. Understand Why
A “do it or else” approach rarely works with toddlers, yet this method is often seen in businesses that seek to change both employee and customer behavior. To avoid frustration, try to understand why there is resistance. Are there steps you’ve missed? For example, replacing paper towels with hand driers might make sense for a restaurant — they’re better for the environment and cheaper — but I still get annoyed when my clean hands have to touch the dirty handle to open the door. The desired change is thus hampered by a subsequent step. Improve the likelihood of the change by understanding the associated steps that may either prevent or encourage the shift.
As you plan your next initiative, remember to capture the essence of the change and the possible reasons why it may fail. Resist the urge to demonize naysayers and instead recognize their viewpoints; this does not reflect weakness, but rather thoroughness in your analysis and preparation to pave the way for the change.