Have you ever been disappointed by the results of a change initiative? Have you ever worked with someone who was renowned for being late in completing projects or attending meetings? Have you heard: “Change takes a long time.” “Change is hard.” “People do not like change.” “People resist change.” Have you found these comments to be consistent with your past experiences? Would you be interested in experiencing change in a more effective and empowering way?
The comments about change in the first paragraph are associated with behavioral change, referenced in this article as level 1 change. They also relate to self-fulfilling prophecies so please proceed tread light-footedly into this world of limiting “knowledge” and beliefs. There are higher levels of change that can facilitate change in such a way that change happens quickly and the experience is empowering to all parties. Higher levels of change can also spark passion, excitement, and creativity.
There are three different levels of change. While most people have experienced level one and level two changes, few in the corporate world know how to consistently effect level two change to produce results. Based upon personal experience, level two change is more powerful and easier to implement than level one change. Level three change is the most powerful, and as yet highly uncommon in corporate America. Companies typically launch change initiatives by striving to create behavioral change.
Level one change involves forming a new habit, breaking an old one, or changing a recurring pattern of behavior. Everyone has intentionally tried to initiate level one change. Most people have experienced failure multiple times in implementing a behavioral change. Many people have also experienced success with level one change. For example, I finally quit smoking decades ago. I had smoked cigarettes for a total of ten years. After three years, I realized that smoking was a nasty, addictive habit with potentially serious health consequences. Yet for the next seven years, I quit smoking literally dozens of times only to begin smoking again over the course of the next several hours, days, months, or in one instance even years. From my past experiences, I would never recommend anyone store their cigarettes in the refrigerator to keep them fresh with the intention of limiting smoking to one cigarette per day or one cigarette after each meal. Nor would I recommend trying to smoke just one cigarette after not smoking for any extended period of time. Other examples of level one change include starting a diet or an exercise program or stopping alcohol or soda consumption. Achieving level one change involves self-discipline and time.
Change is often described as being difficult or taking a long time. People are often seen as being “resistant” to this type of change as they see themselves as being “set in their ways”. Level one change does take a “long” time. According to recent research¹, it takes anywhere from 18 days to 264 days, and an average of 66 days, to form a new habit. I can remember feeling an urge to smoke a cigarette years after I had quit. When companies launch change initiatives, they typically encounter difficulty because they are too often focused on implementing a behavioral change, expecting their employees to break an established pattern of behavior and form a new one.
Level two change is changing your perception of a person, a situation or a recurring pattern of behavior. For example, Mary, an administrative assistant, used to work for me. I frequently gave her constructive feedback to expand her effectiveness in creating a positive customer experience in each customer interaction. Mary was the only employee who chose to leave the organization because she did not like being coached. Several months after leaving, Mary stopped in the office to see me. She wanted me to know that she was now using the coaching that I had given her in her new job and that the coaching was really helping her to be successful with her new employer. She sincerely thanked me for all of the past coaching. She had finally shifted her view of constructive feedback. Through first setting the stage before giving feedback, most people can see constructive feedback as “helpful” the very first time it is given. When you frequently put on the hat of a coach, people learn to readily see that your intention is to contribute, to help them hone their skills.
Level three change involves recognizing perceiving as a creative act. We each have the capacity to “see” reality, any person or situation, differently at any moment. Level three change involves being a change agent, seeing the world from the eyes of a constructivist. According to constructivist thinking, reality cannot be known with certainty. All that can be known with certainty is what reality is not. From this view, knowledge and beliefs fit reality like a key fits a lock. There are always assumptions that can also fit a given situation and can facilitate producing the results that your company wants. We each have the capacity to set aside limiting knowledge or beliefs and operate instead from a set of useful assumptions, about ourselves, others, and any given situation. From the eyes of a constructivist, much of what we “know” or believe to be true becomes true as a self-fulfilling prophecy.
For example, in one of the workshops that I lead, we focus on initiating a level 2 change in whatever work relationship that each participant considers to be the most challenging. Steve was especially challenged by Phil, a subordinate, who responded to Steve’s actions to teach Phil about quality customer service in a manner that frustrated Steve. Steve then considered the situation helpless, and himself as powerless to effect positive change in Phil. In this workshop, participants are challenged to re-examine their “knowledge” and beliefs about the most challenging person with whom they work, the situation, and themselves. They are encouraged to make a point to subsequently interact with this challenging person each day coming from a set of empowering assumptions about themselves, their situation, and the challenging employee. One month later, I was working with the same company and asked for examples as to how they were using what they were learning in their work. Steve and Phil were both in attendance. Together they shared a story about how they impacted a customer by exceeding her expectations so much that tears were streaming down her face as she thanked the two of them for their work. Needless to say their relationship had been transformed and Phil was now Steve’s partner in exceeding customer expectations and adding value to the organization. Steve knew that he was responsible for achieving this breakthrough result.
As a disciplined practitioner of level three change, I see no limit as to the possibilities that you can create for your company, your customers, and your community. You and your leadership team have the capacity to learn this disciplined practice, one that empowers you to effect level 2 change in others. Would you like to expand your organization’s capacity to effect change? Do you want to achieve multiple returns on an investment? If yes, I encourage you to take action today. Send us an e-mail and let’s have a conversation about how we can support you in this endeavor.
1 Businessinsider.com, “Research Shows It Takes 66 Days to Form a New Habit”, James Clear, March 7, 2014
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