Introducing new changes into an organization is a natural and necessary function of any leader. Yet, change management has the potential to become the most difficult task a leader will ever face. Even when a group buys into the desired goals, the familiar comforts of business as usual can be a powerful obstacle to progress.
Haven’t we seen this somewhere else? Organizations are not the only entities that attempt to change. Humans are constantly changing, or trying to, often with a mixed record of successes and failures to show for their efforts. So, when a company unveils a new path toward improvement, the concept is not far from what workers themselves have likely attempted in their own lives. How different is collective change from individual change?
“One of the things that makes change management for an organization different than for a person is that organizations have culture, and they also can get stuck in situations where person A can’t change unless person B changes, and person B can’t change unless person C changes, and person C can only change if person A changes,” said mathematician Spencer Greenberg. “Those dynamics can make change different than doing an analysis at the individual level, but some of the lessons might still apply.”
Greenberg is the founder of the website Clearer Thinking, which provides free tools and training designed to improve thinking and behavior, including habit formation. During a two-year period, Clearer Thinking researchers followed 500 subjects who collectively tried 23 different techniques to form new habits. The clear winner in terms of successful habit adoption was something called habit reflection. This technique involves a three-step process that forces adherents to reflect on past situations where they successfully changed their habits, list the tactics and insights they believed led to past success and then spot opportunities to apply those lessons to their new desired behavioral change.
There’s nothing inherently impossible about applying habit reflection at the group level. Bringing people together to ruminate about successful past changes might prime a team to tackle new changes with more gusto versus merely communicating new road maps.
“If you apply habit reflection to a whole organization, you can say, ‘OK, what’s a change we made in the organization in the past that worked well? What are the strategies we used? How do we apply those strategies to this new situation?’”Greenberg said.
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