Adapt or Die: How Change Really Happens
Originally Published in HR Professionals Magazine
Companies, teams, and cultures are ever-shifting. Change is a vital aspect of company survival and success. Adapt or die. Despite its necessity and prevalence, change consistently proves to be a difficult beast to grapple with. Still, anything worth pursuing is difficult, and that applies to achieving adaptability.
Announcing a change is not enough. Creating buy-in, understanding and alignment are absolutely essential to the success of any organizational change. Yet we know 70% of organizational change efforts fail to achieve their goals, and the reason for that most likely is people. Only 8% of individuals actually achieve their goals.
Change management efforts often fail because they ignore one key factor in successful change…the individual. All organizational change is the sum of individual changes. You need to equip both yourself and your team with the tools necessary to thrive in environments of change. The key to successful change lies in recognizing and acknowledging the individual.
Individuals each have different mindsets towards change. Each person sits in a different stage of change, which is informed by their own, personal life experiences. In order to successfully aid an individual in their pursuit of adaptability and change, their specific stage must be taken into account. There is no blanket strategy for success here. Each stage requires different tactics and attentions. Some of the best research on change comes from studying difficult to change behaviors. Our research has identified six stages toward change. This framework has proven to be one of the most effective strategies to achieve change. We call it the Fast Forward Model.
Stage 1 (No Way) is the earliest stage. In this stage, an individual has not given change much thought. This is likely due to the fact that they aren’t aware that a change is necessary (or they are actively denying the need to change). If an individual is defensive about the idea of change, they are probably a denier. It is important to recognize that individuals in this stage are change averse. This sentiment probably stems from feeling overwhelmed. In order to leave stage one, an individual will probably have to encounter a rude awakening of some sort to disrupt their complacency.
Stage 2 (Maybe) is the stage where the problem has been addressed and the budding intention to take action is present. However, there is no urgency toward change just yet. ‘You don’t have to take action now; it could wait a few weeks’. This is an incubation stage towards change.
Stage 3 (Get Ready) is the stage of preparation. Individuals in this stage have shifted that ‘a few months away’ mentality to a ‘this week’ mindset. The beginnings of a plan are in place. It is no longer an abstract process. For example, if someone was setting out to read more, this is the stage where they would begin plotting out the specifics of their plan. What books should I read? What genres do I like? When in my day is a good time to pick up a book? Individuals in this stage are also aware of the cost this change will require of them. Change requires sacrifice of some sort. It could be any sacrifice from tangible to abstract, free time, for example, is sacrificed when learning a new skill. This sacrifice is a trade. Individuals in this stage are bartering with the future, slowly negotiating the trade they are willing to make.
Stage 4 (Act) is the follow through. An individual in this stage has contemplated the cost of change, set out their plans, and is now actively pursuing. To keep with the reading example, they’ve cracked open that murder mystery and have begun reading. This stage provides a lot of pushback. Individuals in this stage must grapple with fear, doubts, and negative thoughts. What if I fail? Is this worth it anyways? These are normal thoughts. Nothing worth doing is easy and growth is uncomfortable. The more individuals are aware of this, the more successful they will be in overcoming these thoughts.
Stage 5 (Routine) comes a bit further down the line. An individual has been executing their plan consistently for a few months now, half a year, maybe. There is a proclivity for individuals in this stage to believe that the new habits have become so ingrained that they don’t need to give them much thought anymore. This is an area ripe for relapse.
Stage 6 (Victory) is the final stage. New habits are now part of an individual’s routine and they’ve successfully achieved change. Chances of relapse are less likely and the new behavior patterns are cemented.
When helping individuals navigate the process of change, it is important to meet them where they are at. The different stages require unique strategies to help people move forward. When utilized properly results are nothing short of dramatic. Change management at its core is a specialized coaching effort that requires a true understanding of how change works, the individuals that work at your organization and the strategies and tools to utilize at each change intersect. Change is personal.