Saturday, July 25, 2009

Bringing About a Change

Dave Ferguson raises a valid point in my previous post "Are you ready to change?" I have made an attempt to respond to Dave's concern. Please feel free to add your thoughts.

This is a bit tangential to your question, but I saw cell-phone use while driving as a behavior that's widespread among early adopters and change agents.

These are often the people trying to get others to change. What's more, my hunch is that they see their behavior as skilled multitasking, and dismiss evidence suggesting that talking while driving is on a par with driving after two or three drinks.

So: how comfortable, convenient, effective would they find it to make their own change? To do what the bumper sticker puts gently as "hang up and drive!"

One story I see in this is that if you don't want to change, or don't care to change, then change is hard, even if it's rearranging your desk or trying new outfits. All the more difficult if we're talking about significant changes to the way you work (or prefer to work).

I'm not defending people who don't change. On the other hand, I think some people who constantl push change might balk at what they'd see as changing back.


I am reminded of the post by Geetha Krishnan on Changing Behavior. As Dave suggests, most of us know using the cell phone while driving is hazardous but we still do it. Similarly, there are several other things that we continue doing though we know we shouldn't be. Dave discusses an interesting point: "What's more, my hunch is that they see their behavior as skilled multitasking..." Many believe that multitasking in reality reduces efficiency and that at any point in time you are actually focusing on one task before you switch to another. (Change Blindness; you cannot be aware of everything) The concern that Dave voices is that early adopters and change agents themselves refuse to change. Like Dave mentioned, people take drinking and driving more seriously than talking and driving. Why?
  • People do not seriously believe that talking while driving can cause any serious harm. This is especially true in the case of early adopters and change agents.
  • Most people spend several hours commuting from home to their place of work and back. Busy as life is, they take this time to catch up with others. Cell phones are also important links between home and work. I will probably not ignore a call from home because I may consider it urgent. (Though I strictly do not use cell phones when I drive. I prefer to stop the car and then attend to any urgent calls. But, that could be because I am sure I can not concentrate on driving and talking.)
  • Curiosity may be a strong reason why people take calls. When they see a name flashing, they wonder 'What could he/she want?" This question has to be answered and therefore, they take the call.
  • Sometimes you just have to take the call. It could be a client, your boss, wife/husband, or a person you have been trying to get in touch with for ages.
  • People genuinely think they call keep the call short (while waiting at the traffic signal) but are unable to do so.
When do people 'change'?
  1. When it suits them: It is as simple as that. People change when it suits them. I have seen people answer the cell and say I am driving right now and make their excuses. The same people have chatted on other occasions. Therefore, people 'change' when it suits them. This is along the same lines of people 'learn' things that confirm their own ideas or thoughts (read it somewhere on Twitter and agreed this made sense).
  2. When people experience a negative experience: Negative experiences impact behavior. It could be a near-death experience, a traumatic experience, a humiliating experience, or an emotional experience. These have huge impact on an individual's psyche. People change to ensure that this kind of experience never happens to them again.
  3. When they see a HUGE benefit: I say huge (in caps) because it has to really big from people to change their behavior. What is beneficial for one person may not be the same for another. People may change to set an example and earn a good name. People may change to acquire a goal they have set their minds to.
What can we do to ensure a change to encourage a desired behavior? I know most people claim that bringing about a behavioral change is close to impossible through training. I think it depends on what kind of behavioral change you are trying to bring about. If it is a deep routed value/belief/habit that you are trying to change, it is bound to be extremely difficult. In other cases, what are the things that you can do to ensure a change is brought about:
  • Monitor behavior: If it is a workplace behavior (which it is most of the time), ensure that you have monitoring in place immediately after training is delivered. This may seem school-like, but if you are required to bring about a change, the management must show that they are serious about it.
  • Provide positive reinforcements: This again may seem school-like. But it works brilliantly. We had to teach sales executives at a retail store about grooming skills. In the form of positive reinforcement, we had suggested internal competition with announcement of Best Groomed Employee. This worked wonders. The learners were highly motivated after taking the tutorial and we all geared to display the newly acquired knowledge to win the title.
  • Make it a habit: Through monitoring and positive reinforcements, you can ensure that the behavior becomes a habit. For example: people buckle in their seat belts (not in India thought) as soon as they are in their vehicle due to a habit and not because its a rule.
  • Show consequences: In some cases, it becomes necessary to show a cause and effect relationship. It is important for the learner to see the consequence of their actions to understand how the decision they have made it going to effect them.
  • Show them, rather than tell them: Rather than telling them how they should be doing it. Ensure that you show them scenarios in which they get to see the plot unfold. Let the learners arrive at their own conclusions. Ensure that your case it a strong one, else learners will find excuses. For example: Recently, we designed a course for programmers. During the learner testing, we realized that the learners were making excuses for applications by passing the blame on to the users. Therefore, we realized that the impact had to be higher and we had to ensure that all loose ends were tied.
I am sure they are still doubts as to whether external factors can change an individual and I think the external factors could play an important role. Rest is upto the individual. If the person does not want to change, nothing you say or do will bring about a change. I don't necessarily agree that people who push for a change may not want to change themselves. I think it depends on what aspect they need to change. Again, if it is an internal belief which they feel strongly about (say religion), change may be impossible. But, if it suits them, most early adopters and change agents will change. I think it is a matter of making sure that it also suits them.

Your thoughts are welcome.

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