As I write this article, we are in the midst of what is likely “Phase 1” of the COVID-19 pandemic. This present that we are experiencing seems like no gift at all, and it will indeed be a milestone in all of our lives. As quickly as many parts of life return to “normal,” others will not, and we will choose if we emerge better for it. The challenge is how we, as professionals, can emerge as a healthier and more effective team.
The most common reason for a change effort to fail is that individuals fail to change. Their behavior, therefore, does not bring about the intended results, We often call this change resistance, but this rings toward the negative. Our brains are efficient machines, sorting, categorizing, and synthesizing information at an astonishing rate. They rely on the patterns we used yesterday, and this is a positive thing! If our brains didn’t function this way, we would sit at a traffic light when it turned green, relearning what the colors meant until the light was once again red. How can we leverage this tendency toward pattern and present to build a better “future brain”?
Several good change plans are on the market for organizations. They most often focus on the structure and procedures needed to engineer an effective effort. However, these methodologies tend to focus on process over people, and people change, or organizations don’t. In addition to the anemic focus on individuals, change methodologies often miss the fact that a successful change will cause the culture of the organization to shift. Change means we act differently, and acting differently can mean that we are follow-ing different values when we emerge from a change. This unintended consequence can surprise organizations and force secondary change efforts. Setting targets for culture and setting boundaries in terms of behaviors and values (upfront) is necessary as we monitor the cumulative effect of the change on our organization. Finally, change cannot be integrated without stopping other efforts. It typically takes us saying no to several key ef-forts in order to say a solid yes to a single change effort.
Focusing on the individual as the key agent of change, we recognize that though we all function in the same ways at one level, we react in many different ways at other levels. Our reactions to change are a combination of who raised us, our reactions to our childhood, our culture, our environment, our strengths, our genetics, and our learned behaviors as adults. In addition, think through what it takes to change yourself, just one simple habit and the amount of repetition, time in the new pattern, the intentional thinking, and action needed to integrate the new habit into who you are. Now, how can we build the wisdom to accomplish that in another person? Good news, we don’t have to!
As any good therapist will tell you that success stories of personal change happen when their client decides to change and drives the change themselves. We must move from a scarcity mindset that tells us to remove specific barriers to a mental alignment of abundance that says each person has within them the necessary motivation and method to change themselves. What we must do is provide support and guidance on each individual journey. Rather than accumulating the wisdom of the ages or trying the change ourselves first, we can learn to walk others, as well as ourselves, through change by approaching them with a spirit of collaboration, alignment of acceptance, true compassion for them, and a willingness to evoke a response in them. Acceptance does not mean that we condone all behaviors more that we accept that the individual has intrinsic worth, that we will spend energy to get into their inner world, that they have the sole right to “be” and to choose, and that we are willing to affirm their strengths and effort. People who feel unacceptable are im-mobilized. We need to create in people the ability to move, or there will be no change.