Who Really Bats 1000 Anyway and Why Change Efforts Fail

Let’s start with what you have. If leaders were to use baseball-style measures of success, most would agree that batting 1000 is unheard of, and batting 500 is also an unlikely target. Most would consider somewhere around 250 to be about as good as they can expect. The stories related to the success or failures of change initiatives are quite common. There are those who historically have false starts. Change efforts begin strong but seem to fade over the initial fanfare. Others repeat a cycle of new change efforts every 6 months. When the latest one fails, they start a new one in search of that silver bullet--the one we all know doesn’t exist. And then finally, there are those that are left completely frustrated by people not doing what is expected of them, even when there is good reason. To start at the beginning, one probable cause is that these outcomes are typically the result of an overemphasis on what behavioral scientists call Antecedents. Antecedents get change started but are weak when it comes to getting it to work and stick over time. Examples include:

  1. Great speeches today. We discover later that those words were not matched by future action.
  2. Good training. The training seemed good in theory and in the classroom. When we tried to apply it in the real world, it flew in the face of our old habits, our customer needs, other work processes, or fires that we needed to put out.
  3. Great new process. No matter what new processes we put in place, people find ways to work around them.

Now, let’s talk about what you really need. The simple answer, although it is not an easy one to implement, resides in behavior and consequences. Positive and negative consequences together provide the answer to why change efforts fail. And if you have relied on consequences like rewards (money and tangibles) and recognition (pats on the back and other forms of positive feedback) rather than the consequences that matter you will continue to see your change efforts stall and ultimately fail. These consequences are things like self-reinforcement, customer reinforcement, and reinforcement from natural consequences that reside in the work itself (something that takes less time, work and effort will be more likely to occur again than those things that take more time, work and effort). And here’s the challenge: most new changes take more time, work and effort. Here are a few quick tips to consider:

  1. Get started with a brief plan and a clear line of sight
  2. Follow up and follow through
  3. Be deliberate and persistent
  4. Recognize and reinforce small changes on a daily or weekly basis
  5. Ask questions to encourage self-management and self-reinforcement
  6. Keep it simple
  7. Find ways to make things work rather than just comply with the change

Try these tips not only to get the change to occur but to make it stick as well.