7 Ways to Achieve Lasting Behavioral Change

Given the dynamic environment in which we live, achieving lasting behavioral change is critical to organizational success. Yet decisions about whether to sustain these changes over time (as well as whether to make them in the first place) are individual choices. The question we address here is, “How do you ensure the desired behaviors will last?”

Change can be a scary proposition, as it requires us to venture into the unknown. As a result, human beings tend to resist change, even when told the results will benefit us personally. Recently I advised an executive whose workplace is very toxic to leave the organization for a healthy environment. Although he agrees that the suggestion makes sense, fear of the unknown is holding him back. While he is a highly skilled expert who realistically has many job options, the dysfunctions of his current organization are familiar to him. In his mind, he has created many obstacles or reasons why he should NOT leave, such as how difficult it would be for him to “start over again” in developing work relationships somewhere else. Odds are that he will remain where he is in spite of the toll on his mental and physical well-being.

Fears such as this one often are behind the reluctance to change our behaviors. As a result, even when managers are successful in persuading employees to change their behavior, there is a high probability that the changes will be short-lived – i.e., people will revert to the undesirable behavior. So how can we, individually and collectively, achieve lasting behavioral change? After giving some thought to this question, I came up with over three dozen effective tools that help reach this outcome. Here are seven of them:

  1. Identify and focus on what’s in it (i.e., the behavioral change) for ME. The best motivator I know is enlightened self-interest. However, the key to success is focusing on individual interests, not on those of the team or the organization or the family.
  2. Create a very clear and compelling picture of the outcome, and explain how the desired behavior supports it. People who see the connection between behaviors and outcomes are much more willing to embrace the desired change and sustain it over time.
  3. Identify and demonstrate clearly the desired behavior. It’s not enough to say “Don’t do X.” You must go further and demonstrate (not just verbalize) the desired behavior, Y. People need a “picture” of the behavior you are requesting, something to replace the one that represents the current behavior. Otherwise they will revert quickly to what they know.
  4. Address the resistance to change directly instead of allowing it to become the proverbial elephant in the living room - i.e., the big obstacle that everyone knows is there but no one talks about. Employees must be able to get past the resistance before they can focus on changing and sustaining their behavior.
  5. Reinforce the desired behaviors. Make sure the infrastructure (e.g., performance management and reward systems) supports the desired behaviors.
  6. Celebrate successes along the way, not just final outcomes. This keeps the focus on the achievement of the desired behavior in the short-term as well as in the long-term.
  7. Leaders must actively champion the desired changes. They must be role models of the behaviors they are asking others to exhibit – i.e., they must walk the talk.

To learn about how to achieve lasting behavioral change through appreciative approaches, please see our article in the Business Solutions section. If you have questions about any of these seven suggestions, please contact us.

Pat Lynch, Ph.D., is President of Business Alignment Strategies, Inc., a consulting firm that helps clients optimize business results by aligning people, programs, and processes with organizational goals. You may contact Pat or call (562) 985-0333.

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