On a Scale of One to 10, How Willing Are You to Truly Change?

Be a champion for positive change in your industry.

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Why do we ignore strategies that have been proven repeatedly to be successful in changing behavior for the better? Often, the answer is simply because change is complicated and takes time. But what if changing behavior for the better was easier and achievable thanks to the help of proven approaches?

As a clinician and CEO of an advisory firm, I have seen many approaches to managing change with varying levels of success. When clinicians engage with their patients to drive behavioral change, they seek to intrinsically change their behavior. When individuals change intrinsically, their behavior changes even when no one is looking, not just when they are within view of others.

In my experience, the Five Stages of Change, or Transtheoretical, model used by clinicians with patients, combined with the NURSE process, can be applied to large enterprise transformations.

In business settings, most change management programs focus on changing extrinsic behavior. Companies claim success when their process metrics are successful, regardless of whether employees feel like they are part of the solution or know why they are doing things differently. This extrinsic change breaks down when they are out of sight and not directly viewed by the employee's management. We kept people going into the office for years for this reason — so we could watch them and make sure they work.

Unfortunately, many change professionals develop and implement intricate change models, which are usually not based on evidence. Rather, these models to drive change are based on the opinions of an individual instead of the evidence created, shaped, and proven by real, human encounters. Millions of dollars have been spent on change management using antiquated, unproven approaches. The challenge is greater since the Covid-19 pandemic changed not only the physical way we do business but also the intrinsic emotion employees experience when they have the freedom to operate within broader guardrails of behavior. Managing change now includes a mandatory component of managing staff changeover as well.

Early on in my career at Yale, I worked as a health care provider at a clinic near a corporate anchor site of a global IT and services firm. The company was continuously going through drastic changes. Their employees were my patients. They often sought treatment for the stress and anxiety the employer's change caused them. We would first try to understand the root cause of the anxiety. Uniformly, they were seeking medical care because they were not brought into the changes that were happening. Things were happening to them instead of with them. Their remote senior management team was making decisions without transparency, and employees had no path to communicate the impact of those decisions back to headquarters. The company leadership never employed a structured approach for managing employees through the change.

When asked, "On a scale of one to 10, how willing are you to change?" most employees expressed they were truly unwilling to change at all. They needed to find and understand their core reasoning for being resistant to accepting change. By identifying why they did not want to change and developing action plans, employees were able to accept change, and therefore better manage their associated stress and anxiety. They became better employees as a result.

When I later got more involved in consulting for large, international brands, I noticed that many companies were trying to implement changes using complex change models that were not based in reality or on tried-and-true methods. Employees were resistant to change in these approaches, which were often harder to understand than the actual project change itself. This environment begged the question, "Why not return to one of the simplest change models to exist and one that, from experience, we know works?"

The Transtheoretical Model is a well-known and proven model physicians use to support patients through difficult changes in behavior.

Pre-contemplation: You have not yet acknowledged the issue at hand.

Contemplation: You have acknowledged the issue, but you are not ready to make a change.

Preparation: You have acknowledged the issue and intend to address the issue by changing your behavior.

Action: You make the behavioral change.

Maintenance: You sustain your behavioral change over time.

The above model has proven successful over my previous 20 years across industries in business settings and for clinicians daily. It provides a simple set of tools that can turn the gears of positive change in motion. In this post-pandemic world, change is an undeniable part of every industry. It is more important than ever for companies to turn to evidence-based solutions for encouraging those within the environment to accept change.

It is critical that those who are seeking to drive change give those who must accept the change the opportunity to share their desire or reluctance to change. To do that, an employer can more effectively use the NURSE process used with patients to help employees deal with their emotions:

• Name or mirror the emotion caused by change;

• Understand the emotion;

• Respect the emotion;

• Support the person with words of encouragement, and;

• Explore the emotion further if needed.

The Transtheoretical and NURSE models build upon one another and are complementary to other models such as Prosci®. Together, they create the infrastructure for an evidence-based change management methodology.

Why not be the "provider" in your industry, helping your employees change your world for the better? Start today by identifying the level of willingness to change and being the champion for positive change in your industry.

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