Changing organizations isn’t easy – to effect change, make sure you have a strong base and a good plan

The ability to change is a skill that every business needs ingrained. Business is constantly in flux. The organization needs to constantly adapt in size and skill to compensate for a changing world.

Going back to the idea of influence in large organizations. I went through Samantha Soma’s workshop, and loved her focus on building a core team, and how to arrange the team to influence others in the organization.

I’m now listening to a book called Influencers that breaks down people who have successfully changed behavior on a large scale. It’s an interesting read, and it’s gotten me to thinking about what Samantha’s workshop was lacking. For all it’s strengths, I do think her approach (at least as summarized in the workshop) ends up being more strategic and less tactical. At least from the examples in the book, this approach could lend itself to burnout or change fatigue.

Soma’s workshop is directed at helping design departments become strong, with the idea that strong departments can exert influence (and not take influence). The design department thus becomes powerful enough to influence while not being changed by outside forces.

Her strong department theory (as I’ll call it) does not leave much room for targeted, measurable changes. Having a good team that attracts and retains talent is an end in itself. So is building a welcoming environment that values differences and cares about its individual members.

A good team may not be enough, however, to actually change an organization. So I’m going to add to her strong department theory with something I pulled out of Influencers.

The change plan theory

From the book Influencers I’m realizing that effective agents of change do a couple of things consistently.


First, they focus. The don’t try and do 10, or 5, or even 3 things at once. They try and change 1 or 2 basic behaviors. They know what they need to change. Just as importantly, they understand the current behaviors. They understand the context in which these current behaviors happen, and what allows the behavior to continue.


Change teams who have been successful have carefully chosen the metrics that they decide to track. This isn’t a part of the process that can be short-changed. Indeed, measurement impacts the end result, rather than simply being a result of it. The very act of choosing, and the process to set up measurements and benchmark itself impacts the execution of the final project.

Understand the 6 areas that influence change

There are multiple vectors of behavior and motivation that must be accounted for

  • Values – new actions are often perceived to be unpleasant, but we’re terrible at predicting future emotional states. Key in this area is allowing people to try out new actions or behaviors. We also need to help people see new behaviors as personally-defining moments, or key values that they need to hold in their lives. Once someone changes their personal value framework, it becomes easy to jettison old, unhealthy behaviors.
  • Skills – Often our opposition to change stems from a lack of skills. If someone doesn’t know how to do something, then doing that thing may cause them to feel incompentent or stupid. Help people practice new skills in a safe, supportive environment.
  • Support – People want to be liked. We crave the acceptance of other people, even complete strangers (see: Twitter). Change agents know this, and enlist the support of opinion leaders and the entire community to help them in their quest.
  • Teamwork – The sum is greater than the parts. Change leaders know that they can’t do everything on their own, and enlist the support of others to help them in their quest.
  • Incentives – Sometimes we can’t just focus on the intrinsic. We have to focus on the extrinsic as a way of driving change. These rewards need to be immediate and pleasurable. We need to be careful with these rewards, however. It’s easy to make these the sole focus of a change initiative. Without re-orienting values, skills and support, the incentives will not drive change. Also we must be careful – we tend to get EXACTLY what we ask for with incentives. If they are not designed with these unwanted results in mind, it’s easy for the incentives to become a grotesque sideshow of the behavior that actually needs changing.
  • Environment – this is a powerful, yet difficult change to effect. The best predictor of collaboration? Is proximity. People who sit closer together are much more likely to collaborate.

Personal, lived experience is a much better way to help people change than are words alone. Help people experience new behavior, help people experience social acceptance around this new behavior, and create the environment that will make the person most comfortable enacting the new desired behavior.

So if you really want to change behavior make sure that you have a strong department that will not be easily changed by outside influences. Also make sure that you have a change plan that allows you to understand, focus and measure. This combines the tactical with the strategic and drastically increases the odds that you’ll be successful.

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