Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Business Recidivism

Change is hard for individuals. On average it takes several attempts to quit smoking. Dieting is a multi-billion dollar business because we try different diets to help us with weight loss. Most heart disease patients (including C-level people), by definition in the midst of a life-threatening crisis, continue their bad lifestyle habits.

It's even harder for a group of individuals--our businesses. It's not that we resist change. We embrace change. But we revert quickly to old habits. Change programs don't succeed. That's been reported in such auspicious places as Harvard Business Review...and yet we can't keep ourselves from the Change Program Addiction!

A while ago there was research by management guru Marshall Goldsmith and Howard Morgan points out that there are several reasons why 'successful' people continue behaviors, like their style of decision-making and other management aspects, even though the organization is failing:

  • Confusion between correlation and causation: "my behavior made me successful" rather than a fortunate confluence of circumstances and continue that style as a form of "superstition" (i.e. "if I change my behavior, I'll be less successful")
  • Persistence leads to stubbornness and failing to recognize that "it" is not working any longer
  • Omission of failure experiences and strong memory focus on successes
  • Identity found in self-perception and self-esteem; they cite a leader who acknowledges he was a poor listener but that not listening to people is part of his self-made image--new behavior could feel "phony"
  • Inflated performance relative to peers: like Garrison Keillor's "all are above average", successful people believe their in the top 10-20% of all successful people
  • Recognition as successful means there is heavy investment in those behaviors and management styles

On the last point, remember the story of the "Emperor's New Clothes". There was such a heavy investment in the process that it was impossible to admit that it wasn't working. That's a lot like business with our change programs. We've invested so much we can't admit that it's not working so we persevere to the point of burnout...and we ignore the program 'work' to do what we're good at doing, reverting back to old destructive habits.

Let's be courageous to recognize when our processes, systems, management styles aren't working as well as we want. If we're measuring the right things, it'll be apparent. That can support a real change...and not a change program.

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