Toolbox Talks: 5 questions to drive change

New year 2020 road start

New year, new you! You let things slide a little over the holidays and now it’s time to buckle down and start improving your life. What better time to start than the beginning of a new year?

It’s time for the January tradition of getting some new workout clothes, a nice pair of running shoes, joining a gym, downloading a fitness app, buying a Fitbit or other tracking device, and maybe signing up for one of those home delivery meal plans. This is the year you are going to do it and make it stick!

You already know how this story ends. You most likely won’t make it out of the month of January before the “new you” is really just the old you with some nice gear and a little less money. Stava, a social network used by athletes, analyzed the data from their 31 million users and were able to determine the day when the average person breaks their resolution: January 12. We don’t even make it two full weeks before we drift back into our old habits.

It happens so often and so easily we barely notice, or care, that we failed. Have you ever heard anyone say “I’m so bummed out that my New Year’s Resolution didn’t work. I really need to figure out what went wrong”? Probably not. We usually just say “Well THAT didn’t work” and move on with our lives.

And it’s not just our January 1 resolutions that fail. We could be motivated at any time during the year. After a bad visit to the doctor, getting a little winded after a routine task, seeing a few extra pounds on the scale, or just noticing a less flattering look in the mirror. These events are more personal and impactful than the flipping of the calendar but typically don’t result in any more sustainable changes. Why is lasting personal change so hard to sustain? Is organizational change any different?

How many new processes, programs, or initiatives have you seen come and go at your company? It’s a safe bet that you have already started to hear about your company’s goals for improvement in 2020. These goals are usually something that we can all agree will make us a better organization in the future. This seems like a good plan and we may actually WANT to make these changes, but it doesn’t take long before we say “Well THAT didn’t work” and move on with our work lives. So how do we stick to our New Year’s resolutions at work? The same way we do our personal resolutions.

I recently read a blog called Harvard Health written by lecturer Dr. Marcelo Campos, where he shared five questions you should ask yourself to help you stick with your personal New Year’s resolution.

  1. Why do you want to make the change?
  2. Is your goal concrete and measurable?
  3. What is your plan?
  4. Who can support you as you work toward change?
  5. How will you celebrate your victories?

Notice how well these questions align with the process for change management in an organization. In change management parlance this would read:

  1. Why do you want to make the change? Understand and make the case for organizational change. If they don’t know why it’s important, they won’t help.
  2. Is your goal concrete and measurable? Define what good looks like and how progress will be measured. They need to see how their effort is resulting in some progress otherwise, it’s not worth it.
  3. What is your plan? Clearly communicate the plan so we know what actions to take and we’re all rowing in the same direction.
  4. Who can support you as you work toward change? Define the key stakeholders and influencers who can help you drive organizational change.
  5. How will you celebrate your victories? You can’t get big, culture change without having some small “wins” along the way. Celebrate the wins to show that change is happening and their efforts are having an impact. Even if the final goal hasn’t been met, change, however small, is still happening.

Don’t charge into 2020 with vague and lofty goals for improvement. Saying “I’m going to be healthier” isn’t any more useful than saying “Target Zero.” A goal without a plan is just a wish so have a good strategy to ensure your success. Ensure you understand the answers to these questions before you embark on any improvement process to give yourself, and your team, the best chance for real, lasting change this year.

Toolbox Talks offers quick insights and thoughts to use for your toolbox (tailboard) talks. Dave Sowers is a founding member of Knowledge Vine, a veteran-owned human performance training and consulting organization that strives to reduce the frequency and severity of human errors in the workplace. He has almost 30 years of experience in power generation and the utility industry. He is a veteran of U.S. Navy Nuclear Power Program and holds a bachelor’s degree in resources management and a master’s degree in both management and emergency management and homeland security.