It’s a good question and it may have more to do with our experiences than it does with a yes or no answer.
People can and do change. How do I know? Because I created change for myself, and I have helped others create it for themselves too. If we believe people can change, maybe we should ask a better question; what’s the difference that makes a difference in those who change versus those who don’t change?
Why do some people change while others do not? It’s because those who do change are clear about what they want, commit to and follow a process, and invest the time to make it happen. If it sounds simple, it’s because it is simple, it’s just not easy.
Most of my experience with change is with executive leaders. Their organizations are the biggest proponents of change. Many CEOs and presidents I speak with are frustrated with some of their leaders and tell me if they could just change one thing, they would be so much more effective. They even discuss making this change directly with the executive leader but for some reason they don’t change. Because of this challenge, companies hire a coach to facilitate the change they are looking for.
Change is a part of growth, and all businesses must grow and continue growing to be successful. The simplest way for any organization to grow and continue growing is to help their people grow. The simplest way to help people grow is to help them create positive change for themselves which in turn fuels the organization’s growth. Which comes first the organization (chicken) or the leader (egg)?
In my coaching practice, it’s easy to identify the executives who will grow (change) the most. They are the ones who commit to the process, and invest the time. They are willing to be vulnerable, seeking constructive feedback, and eager to explore their blind spots. Not only do they become more aware of themselves and the people around them, but they also create a plan and ask stakeholders to hold them accountable.
From what I have learned, there are three simple steps to help people create positive change in behavior. Don’t take my word for it, I invite you to try it for yourself. Apply the following steps and enjoy the positive change which is likely to follow.
The first step in creating change is to be clear about what you want. The foundation for change starts here. It happens because we are either moving towards or away from something. Most of the people I work with are moving towards something, they want to be more effective leaders and may need to communicate and/or delegate more effectively, prepare for new positions and roles, develop executive presence, or increase employee and staff engagement. Others are moving away from behaviors such as making destructive comments, not listening, being negative, failing to give proper recognition or making excuses. Either way, the structure of change is always the same. It is the content that varies.
The second and most important step in helping people change is having a plan. We may know what we want but knowing how to get it is the difference that makes a difference. There are many ways of doing something and most of the time we want the simplest and most effective way (how) of doing it. In my coaching process, after my client is clear about what they want, and what is important about it, we create an action plan, a list of specific actions that must be taken. Writing down your goals helps you clarify what you want to achieve and guides your daily actions towards achieving them.
Dr. Gail Matthews, a psychology professor at Dominican University, suggests written goals are more powerful than goals we keep in our mind. She did a study with 267 participants and found that we are 42% more likely to achieve our goals just by writing them down. It makes sense and when read daily, the number moves steadily higher. Being clear, knowing what and how we are going to do something, makes success more likely to happen. It’s one thing to have goals and it’s another to have them written down. Having an effective process is the difference that makes a difference. It takes years of learning and trial and error to develop a process for change that works. Once you have it, all you have to do is follow it.
The third and final step of creating change is time. After my clients identify what they want and create an action plan, they commit to seeing it through by investing enough time to achieve their goals. Have you ever wanted something, figured out how to get it, yet you didn’t get it? I have, I struggled, and I learned good things take time. It’s like going to the gym and wanting to be physically fit. You know what you want, you have an exercise plan and all you have to do is put in the time.
Most of my engagements are direct with organizations. They have a valued member of their team they want to develop and they are willing to invest in them. They want results and wish to quantify their investment and the executive’s time. As you can imagine, managing expectations can be challenging so what I do to ensure results is have my clients share their action plans with trusted stakeholders and ask for ongoing feedback and suggestions. This, in my opinion, removes the risk of not achieving successful change by creating a level of visibility and accountability that leads to success. For example, let’s say you are a performer, an actor, and you want to be a better actor. You are on stage and your audience’s satisfaction is indictive of your success. You identify a couple of things (behaviors) you want to improve, and you share these actions with the audience. You ask the audience during intermission to provide feedback and suggestions about the specific actions you wish to improve. You listen, take notes, share them with your director, discuss what changes you are willing to make and adjust your performance. The audience is then asked to fill out a survey to measure your overall performance, how well you listened, and whether you incorporated their feedback and suggestions into your act. The survey is your performance evaluation, confirming growth and providing evidence of your achievement.
I hope you are with me and agree people can, and do, change. One of the most important aspects I have learned from coaching and partnering with organizations is creating sustained change: lasting or intended to last change.
When you change, everything around you changes.