6 Steps to Create Sustainable Change

Do you believe people can change?

Have you ever witnessed a leader (or anyone for that matter) who has been successful in significantly changing their way of “being”? Perhaps someone who, for example, you might have described as scoring pretty low on emotional intelligence, and who now has become very empathic and understanding?

Two recent experiences have got me thinking about this more deeply.

The first was whilst finalising client employee feedback interviews as part of an ongoing training program I’ve developed for a Melbourne business. I was bid farewell with the parting comment… “Good luck with getting her to change.” No prizes for guessing this employee’s belief about the potential for my client (her boss) to achieve a sustained change!

Following a similar theme, a close friend and I were discussing a mutual friend who has been on an intense journey of self-discovery and change. Our conversation was about whether, despite all efforts, leopards can actually change their spots. Is it possible to create a sustainable change in one’s way of thinking, being and doing?  Can a person change to a point where the way they are showing up now is unrecognisable in a positive way, compared to the way they behaved in the past?

My friend expressed her very strong belief that people cannot change their essence and will therefore always come back to their default way of interpreting and interacting in the world. She supported this argument by stating that she has never witnessed any of her friends, family or colleagues achieve a sustained change over time. They always bounce back to a version of being “the way they originally were”.

Her comments triggered a strong defensive reaction in me. I realised that whilst I could relate to parts of what she was saying, I couldn’t stand up and call myself a coach and cultural change agent if I didn’t believe to my core, that people can and do change, so long as they have a truck load of motivation and an even bigger reason why they MUST change.

“I believe to my core that people can and do change.”

Your Own Experience with Managing Sustainable Change

What about you? If you are a leader, (or just a human being) have you ever tried to change something about the way you naturally react or engage with others? As I am sure you will attest, this is no easy feat. Success will depend on how far you are prepared to go in order to succeed. For example, how open are you to hearing things you may not like? Where do you go when confronted with negative feedback? Do you go straight to attack and defend, or do you pause for a moment and ponder what is behind the person’s comment. Could you ever consider there may be a useful message behind the message?

6 Steps to Achieving Sustainable Change

I believe you need support to be successful in stepping up to taking on the challenge to create sustainable change. Here are the 6 steps I help my clients take as we chip away at cultural workplace changes to improve ‘the way we do things around here’.

1. Can you see the possibility? Seek specific feedback on your best behaviours.

I believe that whatever you focus on you will get. If we spend all of our time looking for all the things we do wrong, and none of what we do well, we may conclude there is nothing we do well! I propose you start looking for patterns of when, where, how, and with whom you at your best? Understand how “your best” is impacting those you are interacting with and use these insights to reinforce what you are doing really well.

“I believe that whatever you focus on you will get.”

This is the easy stuff to hear, and now…..

2. Are you open to influence?

I am not asking if you are open to manipulation or indoctrination, I am asking if you are truly open to the concept of “not knowing”. That means accepting the possibility that someone else may have some information that you have never been privy to that could very well change what you understand about yourself. Are you ready to receive feedback about another person’s reality of you? Can you listen to it with curiosity even if you disagree?

3. Why does it matter?

To my mind, knowing why you want to change is the key to success. If you have a big enough reason for wanting to change your style, then you will. If the reasons are not clear or you are doing this because someone else thought it was a good idea, then you may succeed at first, but it is highly unlikely to be a long term, sustainable change.

“Knowing why you want to change is the key to success.”

4. You cant fix what you don’t know?

One of my favourite questions to ask a leader is “if I were to ask one of your team members to describe you, what do you think they would say?”

It never ceases to amaze me how differently people will interpret the same event and how hard it is for them to contemplate that other people may not in fact see the world exactly the same way as them. Sometimes it feels like this person is deliberately telling lies to incriminate you!

Whether you think what they say is the truth or not, it is their reality. Personally, I’d rather be aware of this reality so I can do something about it, instead of allowing it to fester and grow into something I really cannot change.

5. What do we want to do with what we discover?

Mowing off the top of a weed will not get rid of the weed. You can’t just stop a default behaviour with a simple strategy. We need to address the root cause of why the behaviour exists in the first place. That means doing the work on ourselves first before we can work out how to work with others.

6. Looking for feedback and accountability

After working out a plan of action in our coaching or training sessions, I often ask people the question, “how will you know you are succeeding?”

There are three ways that my clients can answer this:

  1. Ask the people who will be impacted by the strategy
  2. Carefully observe their behaviour
  3. Take note of your own levels of stress

Fundamentally I believe people can change, so long as they have a big enough why, opportunity and willingness to reflect, ongoing useful feedback, and caring people to hold the space.

I wonder what role, if any, an employee (and maybe you) can play in respectfully assisting their leaders and peers to learn, grow and sustain change. Do you?

Hi there! I’m Jacqui Snider and I’m here to help you and your business grow and flourish.

As an Occupational Therapist and Workplace Culture Coach and Trainer, I am passionate about helping individuals and organisations develop better home and workplace practices that everyone enjoys being part of. With more than 35 years of coaching experience, I have personally coached and trained in excess of 350 leaders, bringing about transformational change in both individuals and teams.

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