Sustainable behavioral change - this is how it sticks

By Sjoerd Hogenbirk

How do you get people to be willing to change their behavior? In a way that the new behavior is permanent? At Highberg, we know that sustainable behavioral change requires more than a smart intervention. You have to change the drivers of behavior.

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Sjoerd Hogenbirk

How do you get people to be willing to change their behavior? In a way that the new behavior is permanent? At Highberg, we know that sustainable behavioral change requires more than a smart intervention. You have to change the drivers of behavior.

Change has two sides, a hard side and a soft side. The hard side of change is about process and governance. Designing work processes differently, making new working arrangements, make KPI’s explicit and introduce for instance a strong performance dialogue. The soft side of change is about behavior and leadership. And we don't mean what people say and feel. It's always about what people do.

In parenting, parents take a lot of time to teach their children desired behaviors. That's why they reward it over and over again when a child gets a good grade or cleans up his room. This is how people learn, even when they are adults. But crazy enough, within organizations, we expect that all you need is a new manager or consultant shouting the magic words, "we're all going to do things differently."

You guessed it, for sustainable behavior change, you need more.

People's behavior has everything to do with inner drives. The drivers of behavior. The image below shows two types of behavior: the squares represent current behavior, the circles represent desired behavior. People show square behavior because the drivers for that behavior are square. With a temporary intervention, square behavior succeeds, but it does not stick. When the intervention is over, the round behavior returns naturally. If you want lasting change, you have to change the drivers. Replace the square drivers with round ones.

That sounds simpler than it is. On top of all the valuable change methodologies, there are three aspects that determine the sustainability of behavior change.

1. Belief in the change agent

Is the person indicating the different behavior someone you believe in? Do you dare surrender to his or her vision? If that trust is missing, there is no secure basis for making new behaviors your own.

2. Understanding the change

Do you understand what you can achieve with the new behavior? And why it is important? If you are convinced of the point of new behavior, it is easier to make it your own. If someone trusts the change agent AND understands why a change is needed, he will have the ideal attitude for sustainable behavior change. If you offer training or guidance at that time, you will have a totally different learning attitude than when change is imposed. People learn to do new things because they want to.

3. Space to practice

New behavior has to be practiced first. Just like an orchestra rehearses and practices a new piece first. This is only possible in a safe, stimulating environment where you are allowed to make mistakes. In this way you lay the ideal foundation for sustainable behavioral change, which is necessary for improving performance or the successful introduction of a new strategy.

Do you need sustainable behavioral change in your organization?

Then contact me or our specialists!

Sjoerd Hogenbirk

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