Tuesday, May 3, 2011

"Now For Something Completely Different..."--Recidivism & Change Programs

Programs to create change in our companies don't work. You can confirm this by talking to your peers in other companies, or look at your own experience. The changes don't last. That's why Lean experts started talking about "the journey". There have been numerous studies showing program ineffectiveness. Even at the height of Total Quality Management and other movements, there was little evidence that the effort was producing results. Recent discussions among Change Management experts admitted that the failure rate for change programs was quite high (67% or so).

One of the reasons is that people are very reluctant to change. As soon as the pressure is off, we go back to our familiar and comfortable ways...even if they're ineffective. Some experts have shown that ingrained habits, like addictions, take 7 cycles to break. We see it in non-genetic causes of obesity. We see it in heart patients who'd rather have the pleasure of donuts, hamburgers and fries and Lipitor (tm). In business, we see it with behavioral changes proposed through performance appraisals. Why deny ourselves pleasure when we're not feeling the pain today? If you want me to change, then give me a bigger incentive than 3% raise (45 cents/hour, $3.60/day to work really, really hard!?). If I'm going to take a risk in trying something new, I need something more substantive as a reward and nebulous, talky words of support. We even see this phenomenom in conflicts that people refuse to change; the arguments provide some benefit to the participants--esteem, sense of rightness, hoped-for victory--that pleases them more than resolving the conflict.

If I'm going to change, I have to see that the change will fulfill my dreams. It needs to bring me a greater pleasure than my current behavior. I also need some immediate reinforcement. Yes, I need support and it's much easier when there's a new cultural norm that no longer accepts the old, comfortable ways.

In the 1970's, an anti-litter campaign was successful. Recently, I drove down highways that were pretty clean. It was just a generation ago that it was acceptable to throw garbage out your automobile window. We realized that we'd rather see grass than trash. We were given trash bags to hang on our window knobs. We held each other accountable. There were efforts to clean up the roadsides. We started to see that it was possible to have litter-free landscapes. We also enjoyed the fact that wrappers, cups and other debris didn't blow into our own yards from the highways and by-ways.

Be sincere when asking for changes...If you want others to change, you have to be willing to change as well. If you want people to control expenses, what is the pleasure they will gain from it? If you want people to delight customers, what pleasure will they get from it? Remember that what motivates you won't necessarily be a motivator for them.

Of course, if I had the perfect answer, then I'd be a wealthy wellness and change management guru.

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