Leaders Everywhere: How Can You Lead Changes In Your Team? (Article # 6 of 6)
This is the sixth article of six, starting with Leaders Everywhere: How Can You Lead Changes In Your Team? (Article # 1 of 6) , moving to the second article where we cover change management as an investment then onto the magic of rough and ready templates, the virtues of airline captain leadership and tweaking your organisation’s “machine”.
This article is for operational leaders looking to make small yet significant changes in their teams. This topic has great potential to be vast. Where do we begin?
- What are the primary schools of psychological thought?
- What are the major psychological influences of employees and teams?
- This article applies behavioural psychology. Behavioural psychology is a vital ingredient in modern psychological treatments. The behavioural lens lends itself to measurement, and treatments are often time and cost-effective. This commercially pragmatic lens for clinical treatment is enticing for commercial applications.
According to behavioural psychology, what options do leaders have in shaping their team’s behaviours?
We recommend positive reinforcement as the foremost option for operational leaders. Punishment is not recommended due to the reputational and business risk of misapplying this option. Not to mention the impact on team member morale! Designing well-considered change involves the art of winning hearts and minds, after all.
The behavioural approach looks at people’s behaviours in the following light:
- Cue (or external triggers) -> Routine -> Reward 1
- Antecedents -> Behaviours -> Consequences 2
- Pre-game -> game itself -> Post-game
The “cue, routine and reward” model has similarities with the second model. The third model is a cheeky one I made up to show the temporal aspect of people’s behaviour.
Antecedents are the stimuli that will lead to a behaviour. The antecedent can be anything like an email from a customer or a store with promotions. Behaviours are people’s actions in response to the stimuli, such as clicking on an email or going into the store. Consequences are what happens after people take that action. For example, feeling rewarded or disappointed after entering the store.
These three-part behaviour models suggest behaviour changes when:
1) Consequences for current behaviour < consequences for desired behaviour.
2) Act in a new way > continue acting in an older way.
3) Behavior also changes when it becomes less rewarding to act in an old way than in a new way.
People often get stuck in behaviour patterns because they don’t know how to break out of them. For example, if you always go for a takeaway late at night. Your consequence might be feeling guilty and unhappy with yourself for not cooking anything nutritious instead. To break this pattern, you need to change your antecedents, so there’s no temptation at 10 pm and find new ways of coping with hunger or stress.
Yet boiling down human behaviour into a simplistic model doesn’t do justice to the complexity of your team member’s motivation. Yet change can feel overwhelming to plan. Start somewhere — how about with behaviours? Then work on thoughts and emotions.
Let’s take a brief detour from the behavioural model for a moment. Why do employees may not always exhibit a consistent or rational response to your change? There is a psychological basis for this behaviour. All change is a form of stress on your organisational “machine”.
This machine consists of your employees and both upstream and downstream teams impacted by your transformation. Stress can either exhaust or invigorate depending on many factors, including your team’s morale and capacity to absorb extra stress 3.
How can you manage extra stress/change? Let’s start by being aware of change being a stressor through a memorable model.
The SCARF model may help illustrate why your employees may feel threatened or empowered by your change 4,5. Here is a brief video defining SCARF for anyone leading change, including selling the features and benefits of your change.
So part of influencing change lies in seven questions:
What behaviours would you like to reward?
Consider the specific behaviour you would like to change. This specificity is essential. If your scope for the behaviour(s) you want to change is too broad or nebulous, how will your team understand your change?
Psychologists and behavioural design experts are specific about the behaviour(s) they wish to change. So should operational leaders looking to install effective change? It’s not precisely labcoats and checklist stuff, but breaking down the target behaviour(s) you would like to see does have a scientific bent.
Beyond the scientific view of behaviour, this question about behaviour may lead you to think broadly — about success. What will a successful change look like — to both you and your employees?
How can you influence the desired (or target) behaviour?
Adam Ferrier, a consumer psychologist, takes a leaf out of both the advertising and psychology playbooks on mass influence 6,7. Adam suggests using the below four mechanisms to help you influence change. In my experience, the last option — small commitments (or “tiny habits”) — is an excellent lever for most incremental changes in operational teams 8,9.
For example, think of a challenging personal change. If you wanted to quickly knock out one hundred push-ups and situps each day despite currently being out of shape? Would a person with this goal aim for one hundred on their first day? They could, but the likelihood of failure (and negative feelings afterwards) is high. Yet how about committing to just one push-up on the first day next to your bed shortly after waking up? Then rewarding yourself for this achievement, and building from there?
This example merges the idea of small commitments with the cue (or external triggers) -> Routine -> Reward. The cue: first thing, next to your bed after waking up, get ready to do one push-up. The routine: do one push-up (or whatever tiny incremental target you set yourself for the day). The reward? Personal acknowledgement of your achievement and setting a slightly larger goal for the next day.
What rewards can you offer — either intrinsic or extrinsic?
Here are four suggestions:
When can you provide this reward — immediately after an employee performs the behaviour, or intermittently?
The image below shows the amount of planning and design involved in well-thought-out, effective change.
If you want your employees to be revitalised and more capable after the change (mastery), this image speaks to the efforts needed to create this positive employee experience.
What unwanted behaviours are you accidentally rewarding?
As leaders, we can accidentally reinforce the wrong behaviours. We may not do this intentionally. Team members baulk at having to adjust to new ways of working. You feel their distress and decide to delay the change. There is no business imperative for the delay. Yet by reacting to a team member’s distress, you have negatively reinforced their behaviour for the next change they find difficult. Guess who will come to see you to then share their distress about your next change?
How are you making it easier to get your team on board with your change?
If you were to put in place change with higher-ups in your organisation, what extra planning would you consider? These professionals are likely to be overloaded and want you to get to the point. Their attention span is finite. If what you are saying sounds too hard, they will likely tune out. If what they have to do to adjust is convoluted, will they adjust to your change? Probably not.
The concept of mental workload is thus crucial to thoughtful, effective change 10–12.
Experienced Change Managers consider these questions when planning their change:
- Is your change easy to understand?
- Are you providing your team leeway and understanding as they grapple (in their own way) with change?
- Are your messages clear?
- Will your team give you unvarnished feedback about the pains and gains of the change?
- If your team are hit with a stressful circumstance, how can you prevent relapse to previous behaviours?
- If your team are getting change fatigued, what unhelpful yet comfort-seeking behaviours may they resort to?
- Do you sign-post what will happen next during your change?
- Are your training materials well-structured?
- Can anyone access your future solution on the day of the change?
- Is it easy for people to seek support and provide feedback?
Are you clear on what employees need to stop, start and keep doing before the change?
Under stress, people go back to the old ways of doing things. What can you do about this?
Change Managers use many different change models, including the proprietary PROSCI ADKAR model 13. The last part of the ADKAR model — reinforcement — is about making change stick. When an unforeseen stressor hits your team not long after the change, what might happen? Could people “relapse” and go back to their old, comfortable ways? Some changes don’t have a fall-back position. Still, employees may resort to alternative ways of working. They might find other ways to push back against your change depending on their state and capacity to cope.
Think about the example before about push-ups. You may be knocking out thirty push-ups daily. Then a big change hits your home life. You barely crawl out of bed and focus on starting work. The “cue” of getting out of bed and doing your push-ups — what happened there? We are all human and can experience relapse. Maybe we start doing push-ups (or other constructive target behaviours) again when we are in a better place.
Standard operating procedures help augment seemingly automatic behaviours or routines in your team. Training for worst-case scenarios may also help. Starbucks implemented a training program for baristas facing difficult and hostile customers. This program helped baristas prevent “relapse” into arguing with customers via a simple and apt acronym: LATTE 14. If employees have simple acronyms like this and suitable training, even under the pressure of a customer verbal assault, they can remember and use their training.
Simple approaches to preventing “relapse” help make change stick. Similarly, going back to rewards — how can you reward people’s effort to adjust to change? How will you reward target behaviours well after the change has been in place for a while? Lastly, how do you make your change a “cultural norm” for new starters undergoing onboarding in your team?
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2. ABC: Antecedent, Behavior, Consequence. https://www.thoughtco.com/abc-antecedent-behavior-and-consequence-3111263. Accessed August 8, 2021.
3. Rutter M. Resilience as a dynamic concept. Dev Psychopathol. 2012;24(2):335–344. doi:10.1017/S0954579412000028
4. Rock D. SCARF: a brain-based model for collaborating with and influencing others. Neuroleadersh J. 2008;(1). http://www.your-brain-at-work.com/files/NLJ_SCARFUS.pdf.
5. Terkelsen J, Terkelsen M. Collaboration and Influencing Using the SCARF® Model . People Leaders — Medium.com. https://medium.com/@jan_18400/collaboration-and-influencing-using-the-scarf-model-e55ce99d5596. Published 2019. Accessed December 10, 2020.
6. Ferrier A. Adam Ferrier — The Consumer Psychologist. https://theconsumerpsychologist.com/. Accessed January 10, 2021.
7. Ferrier A. The Advertising Effect. South Melbourne, Victoria, Australia: Oxford University Press; 2014.
8. BJ Fogg | Tiny Habits. https://tinyhabits.com/. Accessed June 8, 2021.
9. Chang J. Tiny Habits | SUCCESS. Success.com. https://www.success.com/tiny-habits/. Published 2013. Accessed December 20, 2020.
10. Sweller J. Cognitive load during problem solving: Effects on learning. Cogn Sci. 1988;12:257–285.
11. Soloman H. Cognitive Load Theory (John Sweller). InstructionalDesign.org. https://www.instructionaldesign.org/theories/cognitive-load/. Accessed December 20, 2020.
12. Carroll R. Rethinking Creativity — Bullet Journal. Bulletjournal.com. https://bulletjournal.com/blogs/bulletjournalist/rethinking-creativity. Published 2020. Accessed January 6, 2021.
13. ADKAR Change Management Model Overview | Prosci. https://www.prosci.com/adkar/adkar-model. Accessed January 11, 2021.
14. Thanks A Latte: How To Fix A Customer Service Failure, Per Starbucks, Marriott And Me. https://www.forbes.com/sites/micahsolomon/2017/11/19/thanks-a-latte-how-to-fix-a-customer-service-failure-per-starbucks-marriott-and-me/?sh=b7ca725462a0. Accessed August 8, 2021.