We behave with relentless consistency in alignment with our beliefs about ourselves and the world. In other words, we take action based on who we think we are. The same old thinking brings the same old results. If you want different results, you have to start with how you think. If you've had difficult making a change stick, chances are your struggles have something to do with who you think you are.
As a change leader trying to make a change stick, it's not only about you, but those you are leading. Everyone involved needs to shift their thinking. Since leadership is cause and all else is effect, it's handy if leaders go first.
How do you change how you think?
1. Decide to.
I was once hired by a small manufacturing company to coach an inside sales representative. I'll call him Blake. Blake's sales performance was not up to standard. The sales manager had been working with Blake to set and achieve "activity" goals -- like number of calls, follow-ups sent, leads generated. Typical stuff. For example, he was expected to have 50 outgoing calls per day -- a reasonable expectation. But Blake basically refused. Blake had been successful enough, according to his own standards, doing tasks his own way, and was not about to change for anyone. But he wasn't successful according to the company and job standards. He was still defending himself when they let him go.
The day the calling standards were rolled out, Blake decided he would never make 50 calls a day. He professed this decision to anyone in the office who would listen. At any point he could have changed his mind. The performance conversations, the changes in territory, even the improvement plan that was his last chance. Not even an outside coach could persuade him to change his thinking about himself. He had dug in.
I remember a different client, Bob, a shop manager, who wasn't sure he believed in all this continuous improvement mumbo-jumbo. His company had forced him to hire a "lean guy" and to set up a couple quality improvement initiatives. Bob tolerated the lean guy for the first 6-8 months, but avoided their 1:1 meetings and never once showed up for any of the team improvement events. The lean guy focused on his initiatives and kept taking action despite Bob's absence. Then, one Tuesday morning, one of the shop leads stopped by Bob's office to complain about the lean guy. The lead didn't want the lean guy working in his area and wanted Bob to stop him. After all, Bob wasn't all-in with this guy, right?
Bob had a choice to make.
Bob had been watching the lean guy from afar. And he saw the numbers. Safety and quality had improved in the areas where the lean guy was working, as had morale. They'd done some work to reduce change-over time, so the shop employees were able to be more productive -- and increase their incentive pay. As much as Bob didn't want to admit it, the continuous improvement projects were getting results. And now Bob had a choice to make. He decided, right then and there, to be a person who believed in continuous improvement. Today he is a consultant, teaching lean six sigma to people all over the world.
Step one is to decide. Decide to be a person who works out at 6 am, 6 days a week. Decide to be a person who uses standard work, or decide to be a person who makes 60 calls a day. Decide.
2. Take action on your decision.
Bob decided to be a person who believed in continuous improvement -- and then immediately took action, conveying his decision to others. He also started showing up for his 1:1's with the lean guy, made appearances at lean events, and discussed improvement opportunities with his supervisors and leads. Blake took action on his decision, too.
You've decided to "be" something. What do those kinds of people do? Do that.
A person who works out every day at 6 am, 6 days a week gets up at 5 am, goes to bed early, drinks A LOT of water, and makes sure her exercise clothes and gear are ready to go each day. A person who makes 50 calls a day has a plan. He has a list of numbers, a way to measure progress, and a way to capture call results. There's a follow-up plan, too, with timing and templates. If you believe in continuous improvement, you engage in improvement activities. You talk the talk and walk the walk. You get the picture.
Take action. Do it with relentless consistency.
3. Celebrate success.
Success happens each time you take action per your decision. Each day I get to the gym and through a workout is a success, no matter how I do the workout. Each day you hit your 50 call mark, celebrate your success -- even if you didn't get anyone on the phone, didn't sell a thing, and didn't make any tangible progress toward your sales goal.
Celebrate your behavior. Results will come over time. You can celebrate those, too. But don't wait for the big results to feel good. Celebrate the action. Celebrate the little victories. Why? The brain.
Four primary chemicals in the brain effect "happiness". They are dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins. Each small celebration causes these chemicals to be released. Over time, your brain will associate your new behaviors with happiness. Being a person who works out at 6 am, 6 days will make you feel happy. Making 50 calls a day or showing up to support an improvement activity will bring feelings of happiness.
Decide, take action, and celebrate.
The first step is the hardest. If like Blake, you have professed yourself to be someone who will never embrace a different way of being, it can be challenging to go back on your word (to yourself or to others). I used to say I would never work out early in the morning. I thought my husband was crazy for doing it. And now I love it -- and I miss it when I don't. (The same workout in the afternoon isn't nearly as satisfying.) Bob looks back on his resistance and laughs about it now. He can't put his finger on what took him so long to come around. As for Blake, I'm not sure how he spends his days. But last I heard he still feels justified in his decision to never make 50 calls a day.
Who do you think you are? What satisfaction do you get from thinking about yourself in this way? What do you lose? Is it time for a change? You decide.
Photo used with permission from 123rf.com.