Relationships Needed for Change

A long time ago I worked for a guy who was something of a leadership junkie. Every time he got back from a conference or read a new book, we would brace ourselves for what we referred to as his new flavour-of-the-week management theory.

Inspired by his enthusiasm, we would initially adopt a gung-ho approach to implementing some new thinking or approach.

Without fail, it would ultimately die a slow death and we would then hold our collective breath waiting for the next new great idea to be sent our way.

Given that it’s January and we’re all thinking about our resolutions for the upcoming year, I think my former boss especially would appreciate the jaw dropper of a book entitled ‘Change or Die’ by Alan Deutschman.

After all, when my old boss attempted change it was never really about strategy, structure, culture or the system. His desire, and ultimately all leadership, is about trying to change people’s behaviour.

If we can figure out how to change behaviour, chances are we would always be able to implement the change needed to achieve our personal dreams and desires – lose weight, quit smoking, go back to school, get fit.

Changing behaviour would also be important for businesses competing in an increasingly complex environment or in making our vision of safe, healthy and vibrant communities a reality.

So what is it that sets Deutschman’s theory of change apart from other approaches?

It began for him as an article he wrote for a magazine that was prompted by statistics from the American health care industry.

He learned that despite conventional wisdom that says people change when there is a crisis – they don’t.

He cites the example of cardiac patients for whom it is indeed a case of ‘change or die’. In their case it meant changing diet, decreasing stress, and increasing exercise after critical and expensive by-pass surgery.

Even knowing they were facing the ultimate crisis and could die if they didn’t, an astonishing 9 out of 10 simply were not able to change.

Indeed it is estimated that nearly 80% of all healthcare costs could be reduced or even eliminated if we could figure out how to get people to implement lifestyle changes.

Learning that, Deutschman instead began to focus on what he could learn from the cardiac patients as well as others in different situations who had been able to change.

What he learned, and went on to write more about in his book, is that the secret of those who were able to change their behaviour amounted to three keys…they identified with a person, leader or community. They got to practice, over and over again thus learning to think as if they had already changed. And, doing that, allowed them to reframe their experiences.

The first key speaks to the importance of an emotional relationship with a person, organization, or community that inspires and restores your hope. It is not willpower that gets one unstuck it is a relationship that makes you believe that you can, and are expected, to change.

In essence, the individual or community imparts a belief that you have the ability to change.

Additionally, those involved in this relationship sell you on themselves as your partners, mentors, role models, or source of new knowledge and the specific methods or strategies that they, and now you, need to employ. If that doesn’t make sense, then just think about any time you’ve changed significantly in the past. Chances are there has been a good teacher, coach or mentor jumpstarting your change by providing guidance, encouragement and direction to show you the way.

The second key is that this new relationship, which is much more about heart and emotion than facts, helps you learn, practice, and master the new skills, knowledge and attitudes that you need. In essence this speaks to the importance of training to ensure that these new behaviours become automatic.

The third key is about reframing.

Your new relationship helps you learn ways to think about your situation, your life, your organization or your community. Ultimately you view the situation in a whole new way that would have been foreign to you before you changed.

So, the three keys to change are three new R’s that are well worth learning - relate, repeat, reframe. All in all what this could mean for your resolutions this year is new hope, new skills and a new way of thinking.

Posted on 01-06-08


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