- It’s natural for individuals and teams to resist behaviour change, but it’s a necessary business reality, and managers need to know how to support it.
- Start by gaining buy in for the change, to minimize resistance and leverage your team’s capabilities.
- Then, make the process of adopting new behaviours as manageable and sustainable as the business will allow.
As we’ve looked at before, change is difficult. As humans, we are hard-wired to resist change, and its easy for us to perceive it as a threat. At a common-sense level, we can see this is true – it’s easier and more familiar to continue doing what we’ve always done than to do something different (ever tried to launch a new fitness regime?) Still, change is part of life, and even more so in our rapidly changing technological world. As a manager, you need strategies in your toolkit to help your team change behaviours when the business calls for it.
Gain Buy In
If changing behavior can trigger reluctance and resistance, changing behaviour because you are forced to do so can trigger downright hostility and complete refusal. This works against your employee, you, and your business. To lay the groundwork for behavioural change, you need buy in. How?
- Start with context. Rather than introducing a new set of behaviours (say, using a new software tool or following a new process) in isolation, give employees the big picture so they can see for themselves why new behaviours are necessary. For example, if a new process is being implemented, start with a conversation about the changing needs of the business and the ways the old process is falling short. Your team will likely formulate for themselves the idea that a new process is a necessity, even before you introduce it.
- Help them see why the old way doesn’t work anymore (and why the new state is better). And as much as possible, coach them through this thought process rather than telling them ‘how it is’. Once they have context, ask your team why they feel the current way of doing things might not be viable anymore, or which aspects are still relevant, and which aren’t. Similarly, discuss with them the rationale behind the new processes and ask for their feedback about what might work well and what might be challenging to implement (not only does this uncover their fears and resistance to the new behaviours but can help you identify the pitfalls to manage when you get to the implementation stage).
- Personalize the benefits. Change is driven by the business needs, but in many cases, changes can lead to benefits for your team – for example, learning a new technology can be difficult but oftentimes might be more efficient or easier to use in the long run. When possible, identify and share how your team will benefit personally from changes to increase their motivation.
- Make it their idea. This is not always a possibility (for example, if new behaviours are being driven by regulatory change or safety requirements), but whenever possible, give your team the opportunity to provide input into what new behaviours need to happen. Present them with the business problem you are trying to solve and let them generate ideas to solve it. This gives them a feeling of empowerment and lowers resistance (it’s hard to resist a behaviour you yourself have suggested is needed). Additionally, team members can bring a frontline perspective to many issues, and they may generate even better, more efficient, or effective behaviours to support the business.
Manage the Change Process
- Help them shift a little at a time. Back to the new fitness regime – ever tried to do that, and change your diet, and start waking up at 5 a.m. to meditate, all in the same week? How successful were you? How sustainable where the changes over the long term? If you’re like most people, drastic and sudden change is not only unsustainable, but it can lead to discouragement and failure
- Whenever possible, define the most important change, and focus. Once this change has been mastered and becomes habit, then move on to the next change.
- Provide constructive feedback. Change can take time and old habits die hard. Mistakes will be made. As much as possible, keep feedback constructive and positive, and focus on successful progress rather than perfection.
- Set a timeline and expectations. As much as possible, we need to support our teams through the process, giving them the flexibility, they need to adapt. But ultimately, your team is responsible for doing their job in a way that delivers what the business needs. Consequences for failing to change behaviour should be a last resort, and by setting clear expectations upfront, you can minimize the chance of getting to this point.
Change isn’t easy, but it’s always possible. Try these tips to support your team whenever they need to tackle the challenges of new behaviours.