Making change stick is one of my specialties. It would be easier to pop in, teach a few skills, make a few recommendations, and move on. But I’m not satisfied until I believe real results are underway or in sight. What I really enjoy is returning a year or so later to enthusiastic reports from client and staff that they are all still doing as we’d agreed and seeing obvious benefits.
Change fails far more often than not. The reason is that most efforts are comprised of much talk, a couple of decisions, a new rule or two, inevitably some kind of form, and a generous dose of fanfare. None of which guarantee anything actually changes. Change occurs only when people change their behaviors. So let’s look at the essential ingredients for making change stick:
1. Desired behaviors must be identified clearly.
Talk is just talk. Action requires action. Change requires sustained action in the form of new on-going behaviors. That won’t happen unless people know very specifically what behaviors are desirable. Change occurs when people stop doing some things and start doing other things. Clarity is critical.
2. You, the exemplar, must act like one.
Your staff won’t change their behaviors if all they see is business-as-usual coming from you. You must model the desired behaviors every inch of the way. If you don’t, don’t expect your employees to take you seriously.
3. Those who must change behaviors must be willing.
Change by decree is a long, painful slog best. Usually it fails. If people understand why they need to do things differently and sign up for a new approach willingly, you have a decent shot at success.
4. Practice new behaviors together.
Few hear a new idea and change overnight. Most are usually too busy to even think about how to apply what they’ve learned, never mind how to integrate it into their daily routine. Overflowing inboxes and old habits present formidable barriers. That is why training is usually a waste of time and money. In order to develop new habits, people need practice, reflection, triggers, and reminders. I don’t care if you want to change the way you communicate, run meetings, or develop software. You need to carve out time to practice. If you have a shared and clear understanding of exactly what needs to change, you can work together, remind each other, and consciously practice until you are all well versed in the necessary behaviors.
5. Resist the urge to tweak until you are an expert.
When a new process or method is adopted, there are always snafus. A common reaction is to use every set back, no matter how trivial, as an excuse to tweak the process. Before you know it, you have ”tweaked” yourselves right back to the old routine. It takes a while for a new process to become a standard process. And many people will not fully understand the new process, nor its value, until they get really good at it. Only after you are really good at it should you start messing with it. So, model the desired behaviors and insist others do as well until you can speak from a new place of expertise.
Successful change begins with clarity of purpose, process, and roles. It ends with discipline and practice. When I work with clients, I guide them through this entire sequence until change sticks. This is why they tell me that I always seem as committed to their success as they are. I am, because to stop short just wastes everybody’s time. I don’t know of any organizations that can afford to continue wasteful training and failed change. Embrace these five steps and make your next change stick!
This article originally appeared on Forbes.com on May 29th, 2016.