Change Is Good: B Is for Behavior

Change Is Good is a blog series in which Roger Kastner highlights the simplicity in the art of Organizational Change Management and strives to encourage readers to maximize Pareto’s Law when navigating through the complexity of human behavior.

Slalom Consulting Roger Kastner

A Consultant Manager with Slalom Consulting, Roger works with clients and other consultants in the delivery of Organizational Effectiveness and Project Leadership services and helps practitioners achieve greater success than previously possible.

Change often seems overwhelming, and even with best intentions we can definitely make it more overwhelming. Yet if we break it down and apply an approach based on simplicity, the successful adoption of a change can come down to a few key behaviors. And maybe even just one behavior.

Recently, a client and I were talking about behavioral challenges on a project that was already impacted by significant technology issues. The scope of work was hard enough, but the behaviors exhibited once the technology problems were discovered made the road ahead seem even more difficult.

It was clear that in order to tackle the technology problems on the project we needed a change in team behaviors. The client identified three major behavioral challenges witnessed by project members:

  1. Quick to identify problems but did not provide any solutions on how to address and resolve the problem.
  2. Failed to act with accountability when problems were identified; instead they engaged in telling stories about how the problems were created.
  3. Spent a lot of time discussing problems, but slow to create ideas and even slower to try them out.

After the conversation, I thought about the gaps in behavior my client had identified and mapped each with the desired behavior:

Behavior Gap Desired Behavior
Identify problems without solutions Be solutions-oriented, i.e. “don’t bring me a problem, bring me solutions.”
Lack accountability Acting with accountability means when a problem is identified, first ask yourself “what did I do to contribute to the problem?” Then ask, “what can we do to resolve the problem?” (Thank you, The Oz Principle).
Too much thinking, not enough doing Have a bias towards action—a 75% solution which is 100% implemented will have better results than a 100% solution which is 0% implemented, i.e. “don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.”

Next, I went on to create an elaborate workshop framework that would have my client set the vision for these desired behaviors and then engage the project leaders in defining how to implement the behaviors:

  • Define the expectations for the behaviors;
  • Identify the performance measurements for the behaviors; and lastly,
  • Develop a system of rewards and consequences to enact once the measurements were in.

My thinking was that rather than tell the team how to behave, let’s identify the new desired behaviors and let them engage in how to implement and measure the new behaviors. Sounds good, right?

And then I smacked myself in the head. I made the common mistake of taking a complicated problem and creating an equally complicated, and therefore unrealistic, solution.

Knowing that I was heading down the road to complexity, i.e. failure, I reached out to a wise and experienced colleague who, after telling him what I did, laughed and shared how he had been down that path before. He agreed that simplicity is the more effective path, and suggested that I go back over my plan and look for the key behavior that would have the desired impact of all three.

At that point, the one key behavior jumped off the page: Be solutions-oriented.

Clearly, if team members started to present solutions to the problems they identified, they would…

  • Demonstrate a bias towards action by jump-starting the conversation on addressing the issue;
  • Act with accountability by owning the process of developing solutions to problems identified;
  • Reinforce the behavior of being solution-oriented as witnessed by other team members as being engaged with leaders on the solution.

The benefits don’t stop there; in fact, they actually can magnify and have larger implications for the organization:

  • Grow individual skills and confidence in problem-solving, and increase staff’s sense of autonomy and mastery (watch this great Daniel Pink video for why autonomy and mastery are key for motivation);
  • Engage people who are closer to the work in developing the solutions, thereby increasing the likelihood of adoption of the solution;
  • Grow leader trust in team members’ ability to problem-solve and be change agents; and
  • Reduce the amount of time that leaders need to be in the weeds of their staff’s work by growing the problem-solving skills and the leaders’ confidence in those abilities.

Like some sort of Lord of the Rings parody, there truly was one behavior that could rule them all. While I’m sure my colleague would not be too flattered to be compared to Gandolph the White Wizard, nor would I like the comparison with Frodo, it is clear that attempting to focus on several behaviors would be too complex, and would more than what is necessary, and thus likely not to deliver the desired results.

Rather, by focusing on the one right key behavior, we will drive more benefit and better results by focusing on the simple solution.

Interesting Discovery: Simplicity for the team requires multiple changes for the leader
In order to maximize the results of focusing on only one behavioral change for the team, we discovered that this approach required a significant increase in behavioral changes for the leaders.

In order to drive the new behavior of being solutions-oriented project leaders, including my client, would have to exhibit several new behaviors themselves:

  • Require solutions with problems. If no solution is offered, assign the process of creating a solution to them and ask them to return when they have a solution in hand. The leader cannot jump into old behaviors of providing a solution for this approach to be effective.
  • Resist jumping in and fixing. When a solution is being presented, stay in inquiry (Thank you, The Fifth Discipline) and continue to ask questions about the solution, instead of telling them how to improve the solution.
  • Allowing the implementation of a perceived “less than perfect” solution. Even if the leader thinks they know a better way, implementing a 75% solution (and develop a schedule for checking and measuring the work), will empower the team to see their solution in action and will allow for course correction. A 75% solution implemented and adopted 100% will drive more value than your 100% solution poorly implemented and not adopted.

With a cycle of leaders defining and reinforcing a new behavior, and with team members being allowed to demonstrate the new behavior, there is a greater likelihood the new behavior will take hold and deliver the desired benefits. More importantly, when attempting to change behaviors, taking an approach based on simplicity which identifies the one behavior that produces multiple beneficial results will drive greater long-lasting results than the complicated one, every time. The challenge is that simple does not mean easy; instead, it requires more work to design a simple solution. But nothing of value ever does come easy.

It’s that simple.

About Roger Kastner
As a member of the Organizational Effectiveness practice at Slalom Consulting, I'm excited to share my perspectives and experiences with Change and Project Management to help clients and practitioners achieve their goals and objectives.

9 Responses to Change Is Good: B Is for Behavior

  1. Rob Nichols says:

    Good message. I from a leaders perspective, it would seem difficult to resist the temptation to focus on the “day job” and just, “get er done.” I think the biggest adjustment is the acceptance of a path that, we as leaders, believe is not the optimum way to go.

    • Roger Kastner says:

      Hi Rob,

      Thanks for reading and for the compliment. I think you are right, letting go can be the toughest thing. As a parent, this usually doesn’t come easily but with practice it does happen. As leaders, our employees are usually not rebelling because their rebellious teenagers striving for their independence, but because they want to demonstrate their value and expertise. Letting go in both instances has it’s value in creating autonomous, masters of their own domain.

      Thanks again,

  2. Alister Cullen says:

    Hello Roger,

    Great article. I look forward to more words of wisdom on this and related topics.

    • Roger Kastner says:

      Hi Alister,

      Thanks for reading and for the compliment. I don’t know about “wisdom” but it’s fun to be a part of the conversation to propel change as a discipline and to connect with other professionals.


  3. Michael Miller says:

    Simplicity is good, but it is hardly ever simple.

  4. Pingback: Change Is Good—Introduction « The Slalom Blog

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  7. Pingback: Why Projects Succeed: Organizational Change Management « The Slalom Blog

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