A manager in a company with which we worked a while ago was telling us about the partial failure of a Change Management project in her organization “We applied all important rules, during the whole program. But it was not good enough, and now we are slipping back!” This happens because, during a Change Management project, rules are constantly repeated, monitored and behaviors are consolidated. like any other change though, knowing the “rules of success” by heart does not mean we can be effective.
To successfully complete a long-term personal or organizational change:
- we need to define the new behaviors we need to apply for the change to become the norm. This means that the cue for the behavior must be really clear (when do I have sto start to behave this ways?), the routine (what do I have to do?) and the reward, essential to consolidate the habit. So we need to be sure that the new habit does not go against other personal goals and that gives a reward that is always motivating.
- we need to carefully choose what habits will replace old behaviors. Remember that simply eliminating one habit is extremely difficult, because it is linked to many factors: the habit of smoking, for example, is not only linked to inhaling a substance, but also to the gesture, the time you take for yourself, the possibility to socialize with others… So we need to eliminate only the ineffective part of the routine – e.g. we can have a break, we can stay together with others, but instead of smoking, we eat a yogurt.
- we need to define a “safety plan”: there might be situations, especially at the beginning, when the new habit is not always applied and we “slip back” into old behaviors. Well, that happens. At the same time, remember that this is the moment in which new behaviors that we are trying to apply in our change plan disappear, because old rewards of our previous habits remind us that the “earlier scenario” was not so bad. So we need to define specific actions in case we realize we did not comply with a new habit and we need to eliminate all factors that tempted us to slip back into the old behavior. For instance, if we are on a diet and today we ate a lot of chocolate biscuits, we need to eliminate junk food from the house.
Long-term change has rules: but following the “rules of success” is not enough because, once the Change Plan ends, and we need to cintunue adopting the desired behaviors, slipping back into old rule is easy, since we are not pushed and motivated by the Change Project anymore.