Change Programmes focus on mechanics, but fail to change behaviour

Behaviour change is a scary thing that is not generally well understood by operationally focused executives.  A strategy that depends on behaviour change is doomed to failure without constant reinforcement of the new capabilities required.  People enter the program at diamond 1 - not knowing what good looks like.  An offsite strategy day gets buy in to a new vision, but the enormity of the challenge starts to sap resolve and a week, then a month goes by and all of the good intentions gradually get consigned to the “ too difficult” bucket.  Training is often a "lip service" component to Change Programs with little attention paid to it other than to tick the best practice box.  We are now at diamond 2.  People know what they should be doing, but can’t quite do it.

Changing Behaviour

Teaching or showing people new techniques does not instill new capability.  It takes a lot more than that.  Academic research shows that generally people learn in 4 different ways.  Seeing, hearing, doing and reading + reflecting. Most training programs address the first and maybe second diamond and research shows that they are between 10-20% effective at embedding skills - less so if the program is abstract generic training lacking the context to bring theory to life.  To get to diamond 3 requires facilitated practice.  Sometimes this just needs to be old fashioned “nagging” - setting deadlines and checking that people are progressing.  Adding coaching where people need help to move forward is valuable if new skills are difficult to master or need people to think in substantially different ways.  By diamond 3, people can do new things, but they are still not terribly comfortable with them - they don’t come naturally.  It is not until people really own new skills and processes and have the spare capacity to do them without thinking too hard, that they become more proficient in them than their previous ways of working.  

It is obvious if you think about it, if people find the old ways of working easier because they are familiar with them then they will tend to revert.   It takes until the 4th diamond to really embed behaviour change.  Getting here requires multiple teaching techniques and facilitated practice in the real workplace context - doing the day job in the new way.  It is not until people own the techniques, use them without conscious effort and have adpted them to their own style that they stick.

Research shows that moving through to the 4th diamond increases the effectiveness of skills enablement and behavior change to around 80%, but 2/3 of change programs fail despite 25 years of focused effort by big consulting firms and academic researchers.  We know why and we know what to do, but too often it is the how that catches people out.

If you want to know more

There is a case study that shows the approach in practice here


Banner image © Mark Neild 2013  Dolphin in Bay of islands New Zealand taken shortly before we went swimming with them.