What does it take to change behavior?

changeLast week, the temperatures in the Portland metro area were forecasted to exceed 100 degrees for three straight days. If you are in other parts of the country, this may seem mild and not a big deal. But in this area, many people do not have air conditioning and are not used to temperatures at that level. So, it was no surprise on the first day that the number of people out walking early in the day was significantly higher than it normally is at that time of day. But, by day two, the number of people out walking had dropped back to normal levels. The prompt for behavior change was a short-term event. Behavior changed for one day, then normal patterns returned as the weather normalized.

Have you ever attempted a change initiative in your organization? Many times they fail because people are used to the periodic change initiative, understanding that it will be an area of focus for a short period of time, then normal patterns will return. Sustained change requires a known benefit that is being targeted, and consistent focus on that change such that old behaviors will not return (or be accepted if they are attempted). How are you driving change in your organization?

Assumptions and Biases – Are You Getting it Right?

assumptions and biasesA few weeks ago, I adopted a new dog from the Oregon Humane Society. As part of the adoption process, a collar and a few tags are provided. The collar happened to by pink. Off we went to the pet store to get a few more things including a harness and leash. There were no pink harnesses in her size. So, we purchased a lovely turquoise set. It works with the pink and I like the color. Then a funny thing started to happen. During our daily walks, almost everyone thinks she is a male, likely because she is wearing a blue harness and leash. Blue = male. A few get up closer and notice she is actually a female and correct themselves. It has been surprising to see the number of people making the incorrect assumption about her sex.

Whether you call it an assumption or a bias, people make a judgment based on experience or predisposition every day. In business, the ability to get it right has a significant impact on the culture and the success of the company. Checking the basis for the assumptions and making unconscious biases conscious can lead to better decision making. How are you checking assumptions and bias in your organization?


Do you have the right people in the right place?

right people in right placeFlashpoint is a Canadian TV drama series that ran years ago, focusing on a specialized police team that handles hostage situations. While each team member has common skills, they each have specialized skills and typically handle a specific role that is matched to their skills. In an episode that recently aired as a rerun, the negotiator and the tactical operations lead switched places. They were working through a hostage situation, and a third person had a clear view of the situation. No-one else could see what was going on. Her request to resolve the situation was denied by the negotiator who was handling the tactical role in favor of talking more. Things went sideways and resulted in some injuries. During the debrief after the incident, there was a significant debate on whether the call was appropriate. The perspective was that the skills were mismatched for the swapped roles, leading to an undesirable outcome.

While most business situations are not life or death, getting the right people in the right place can have a tremendous impact on the outcomes of business. When people are not in the right role, decisions and actions can be delayed, leading to suboptimal results. And it isn’t fun for anyone. Typically when people are in the wrong role, they do not enjoy it. When the right people are in the right place, they enjoy what they do and the right things happen more quickly. Do you have the right people in the right place? How can you get there if you aren’t right now?

You don’t have to have the whole answer – just start

don't wait - just startI was recently speaking with someone about an effort that is getting underway that can have a transformational impact on their business over the longer term. But, there isn’t a long-term owner at this point. The short-term perspective is a couple of discrete actions that can get the ball rolling and ultimately support the longer term. The company will make some progress if it only does the short tem work, but the impact of the work will diminish over time without the longer term. The question: do something or do nothing?

It is funny how many times over the last few months I’ve come across this exact dilemma in one form or another. My advice is always to start. By getting the ball rolling, progress starts. It ultimately allows for further critical thinking that creates better focus, revisions and course corrections. It may not always work, but insights will be gained along the way. In the case above, the work started and internal support started to build, even without a long-term owner. The key was to just get started. How are you starting things without having the 100% solution?

Change – it is like driving a manual transmission

change is like driving a stick shiftIt was decades ago, but I remember it like yesterday. I had mastered driving an automatic transmission. It was time to learn how to drive a manual transmission – or as I call it, the stick shift. Down we went to the mall where there was plenty of parking lot to practice. It was flat, there were no obstacles and conducive to starting and stopping without pressure. Things were going well, so it was time to drive home.

Turning into traffic, the lurching began. Letting off the clutch and pressing on the gas the car lurched forward throwing us toward the dash, then back against the seats, then toward the dash, then back again. I finally got the car rolling in a smooth manner. And there it was. The hill. With the stop light at the top. And it was red. Gulp. The pit formed in my stomach. How was I going to get the car up the hill without rolling back into the car behind me? The car rolled back, then stalled. I started it up again, it rolled back, horns blaring, and the dreaded stall. It was clear I wasn’t going to get up the hill, so we changed seats. Defeated for the day, I eventually learned how to drive a stick shift successfully, but there were many more adventures of lurching, rolling back and stalling before I finally got there.

Driving change initiatives in business can be a lot like driving a stick shift if you haven’t done it before. Things can lurch around, throwing people back and forth, stalling and sometimes rolling backward. It’s easy to stop and give up. The trick is learning how to let go of the old ways while accelerating in a coordinated fashion so it is a smooth transmission without lurching around. With practice, you’ll find the right rhythm and eventually the lurching will be gone. And the added bonus – once you figure it out, you can get out of the blocks faster than an automatic transition, giving you the ability to outpace your competition. Have you learned to drive change in your organization like a manual transmission?

Are you missing the signs?

missing signsDriving down the road today, an SUV was smashed head on into the guardrail intended to mark the beginning of an exit. Given the direction and position the other vehicles, I couldn’t help but wonder if the vehicle had decided not to exit was and tried to get back into the freeway, missing the mark. I don’t know what actually happened and can only speculate.   The interesting thing about this particular exit is that there are several signs over the prior mile indicating the exit only is approaching. The striping on the road also changes, indicating the lane is exit only. Regularly, there is a last minute shuffle as the opportunity to merge runs out and vehicles attempt to merge with little room. The traffic moves well in this area, so it is not a matter of trying to line jump, it is a matter of not realizing it is time to merge. It always surprises me how frequently people seem to miss the obvious signs on the highway.

This situation is not isolated to driving down the road. It happens frequently in business. There are signs about changes coming in the market, costs in the business, shifting of customer needs, etc. But many times they are missed because the focus is elsewhere. How do you make sure you don’t miss the signs in your business?

Balance – it is all a matter of engaging the core

balance is about engaging the coreBalance has been the topic of conversation over the last few weeks. Through the course of conversations, most of the people say something to the effect that they do not have good balance. They struggle to stand on a BOSU ball, on one leg, etc. without falling over. Years ago, my balance was not good either. I first started working on balance with my personal trainer, Babs. Each time I would start the exercise she would say: “engage your core”, and only then could I balance. Babs later explained that by engaging the core, the muscles support the spine and allow for stabilization of the body. Without engaging the core, balance is nearly impossible. Another instructor talks about the importance of a strong, functioning core. Part of the process of learning balance is also learning how to catch yourself when you stumble, like tripping on a curb, so you don’t fall flat on your face. Having a strong core means you can course correct and recover quickly.

The same is true in business. The core of the business is values, strategy and people. By engaging the core, businesses can become strong and agile. They can find balance and make course corrections quickly when a curve ball is thrown. How are you engaging your core and finding balance in your business?

Do your changes make sense?

change that makes senseMy new favorite gas station is very convenient- easy freeway access, the best pricing and I never have to wait for a pump. A few months ago, they made a change that is counterintuitive in today’s environment. They changed from giving the option to have a receipt printed to getting one whether you want it or not. Almost every time I pull up, there is a receipt from the last customer hanging out of the machine. I don’t know why the change was made, but can only speculate it was an oversight when other changes were made. And while a minor change, the cost of business is going up because more receipts are getting printed and customers now must wait for receipts to print that they don’t want.

Changes like these happen in business frequently. They are small, likely unintended, but causes the business to take a small step back. In isolation it is no big deal. The thing is, these types of changes are typically not a one off. They tend to accumulate. A bunch of small changes that become a bigger problem when added together. How do you make sure that the changes you make in your business make sense?

Raising the bar

Hard workGoing to the gym is one of my favorite things. It’s a little social and a lot physical. Before class, people typically gather in front of the exercise studio to catch up before working out. The conversations run the gambit. And periodically someone walks up and asks about the class that is about to start. It always surprises me the number of people who choose not to attend the class at all, or choose not to come back because it was too hard. Time after time, instructors advise how to modify a movement or the appropriate level of weight for beginners. The point is, just get started. You may not be able to do everything that day, but if you stick to it, you eventually will.

Doing something hard challenges you to get better. It raises the bar on your potential. It makes you think about the possibilities. How are you challenging yourself and your business to get better?

When incentives are not aligned

incentive alignmentA friend was describing a situation in his business. The region is struggling with a 50% vacancy rate – a real issue given that it is a service business. Just getting enough staff to meet contractual obligations is time consuming and difficult. So when the head of business development talked about the need to expand the business, he about fell over. They can’t meet the current obligations, how can they possibly grow? I asked if the business development head is incentivized based on growth in the region, the answer was yes. No wonder! The incentives were not aligned, so sales was out drumming up business while operations was struggling to keep up. It was a fantastic reminder to ensure that all parties are incentivized to row in the same direction to make the business successful. How do you ensure incentives are designed in a way that you get the results you want?