Lasting Behavioral Change

by Mike Shipulski

Lasting Behavioral ChangeWhether it’s innovation, creativity, continuous improvement, or discontinuous improvement, it’s all about cultural change, and cultural change is about change in behavior.

With the police state approach, detailed processes are created and enforced; rules are created and monitored; and training is dealt out and attendance taken. Yes, behavior is changed, but it’s fleeting. Take your eye off the process, old behavior slips through the fence; look the other way from the rules, old behavior clips the barbed wire and climbs over the wall. To squelch old behavior with the police state approach, gulag energy must be consistently applied.

To squelch is one thing, but to create lasting behavior change is another altogether. But as different as they are, there’s a blurry line of justice that flips innocent to guilty. And to walk the line you’ve got to know where it is:

  • Apply force, yes, but only enough to prevent backsliding – like a human ratchet. Push much harder and heels dig in.
  • The only thing slower than going slow is going too fast. (Remember, you’re asking people to change the why of their behavior.) Go slow to go fast.
  • Set direction and stay the course, unless there’s good reason to change. And when the team comes to you with a reason, deem it a good one, and the cornerstone of trust is laid. (This is a game of trust, not control.)

But there are some mantras to maximize:

  • Over emphasize the positive and overlook the negative.
  • Praise in public.
  • Don’t talk, do.

The first two stand on their own, but the third deserves reinforcement.

This isn’t about your words; it’s about your behavior. And that’s good because you have full authority over your behavior. Demonstrate the new behavior so everyone knows what it looks like. Lead the way with your actions. Show them how it’s done. For lasting change, change your behavior.

Even if changing your behavior influences only one person, you’re on your way. The best prison riots start with a single punch.

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Mike ShipulskiMike Shipulski brings together people, culture, and tools to change engineering behavior.  He writes daily on Twitter as @MikeShipulski and weekly on his blog Shipulski On Design.