Change Management Finding Key Behaviors

Posted by mjmedlock on June 22, 2011 in Change management |

Find Key Behaviors To Influence Change


Much of the change management literature is about targeting and measuring critical success factors. While formal measurement systems are important, they are rarely enough to affect real change. Real change means changes in people’s behavior. To change behavior you need a set of influence tools to lead people to the new behaviors you want them to exhibit.

Before I go any further I would like to mention two books that are essential reading for anyone wanting to initiate an important change effort.

Influencer: The Power To Change Anything.

Switch: How To Change Things When Change Is Hard.

Find the key behaviors


Key, or vital behaviors are similar to critical success factors  found in much of the change management literature– they are the things that must go right for the change to succeed. As with critical success factors it is not always easy to identify key behaviors.  A common problem that people run into when trying to identify key behaviors is ends-means confusion. This means that we confusing the mistaking the desired result for the key behaviors required to get the desired result. For example, you want to reduce your weight. That sounds simple, just eat less and do more exercise. But these aren’t key behaviors; they are the results of key behaviors. A key behavior might be to plan your meals and only purchase what is on the resulting shopping list. This is the kind of behavior you need to exhibit in order to eat less.

So how should you find these behaviors and what will they look like?

  1. High leverage behaviors. Humans aren’t good at doing many things at once, so the behaviors that you want to encourage should have a big payoff.
  2. With the first point in mind, you should choose three or fewer behaviors. If you try to target more you will dilute your efforts and increase the risk of failure.
  3. Study best practices to find out what behaviors are exhibited by those who succeed where others fail. In essence you are looking for the successful outliers in a sea of failure. This can be done with statistical analysis. After you have identified the people or groups that are succeeding your can then observe what they do differently from others. It is important to observe rather than ask, as the people often do not really know what it is that they are doing differently.

Even if you don’t have access to large amounts of data you can still find the outliers by studying positive deviance. This means you look from examples of where a problem should exist but it doesn’t. For example why can some people come back from training seminars and manage to apply what they learn while others can’t? Identify these people and observe them. What is it that they are doing differently?

It takes time, patience and effort to find these key behaviors, but, just like critical success factors it is an essential step in the change process. Remember if you are not influencing the appropriate behaviors, you are probably wasting your time.

Further reading on change management on this site

Six sources of influence change agents can use in change management

Change management: How can a change agent change minds?

Strategic change management


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