champion change using 9 things successful people do differently
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Champion change using 9 things successful people do differently

Personal wins…and losses

Organisational change can learn from personal change initiatives. Take a moment to reflect on the most recent personal goal you’ve achieved. It doesn’t have to be one of life’s major battles. It might be as basic as completing your ‘To Do’ list for the day, sticking to your promise to take an hour to read a novel or spending an hour’s quality time with people you care about. It does feel good to achieve personal goals, doesn’t it, even those which are quite modest?

But, what about the personal goals you haven’t yet reached? Sometimes, even small goals can prove quite elusive. Larger targets seemingly impossible to reach! Just what is it that leads you to succeed or fail?

Motivational psychologist, Dr Heidi Grant Halvorson, points out that most people (even those who are very successful!) are not too good at understanding what contributes success and failure. She reminds us also of all the research showing that successful people reach their goals because of what they do. This seems much more important than who you are – which plays a smaller part.

Nine things successful people do differently

So what is it that successful people do differently? Firstly, they get specific. Secondly, they seize the moment to act on goals. They also know exactly how far they still have to go. Successful people are realistic optimists. They focus on getting better, rather than getting good. They have ‘grit’. They build their ‘willpower’ muscle. Successful people also don’t tempt fate and they focus on what they will do, rather than on what they won’t do.

So, how did you do on that list? In a nutshell, successful people know pretty much exactly what they’re working towards in the moment. They also limit the number of goals they’re trying to focus on at any one time. Then, they devote energy to completing the tasks, and keep taking action, even when the going gets tough.

Can we use these ideas to champion organisational change?

When we think about organisations, we often forget that they are made up of individual people! They are supposed to combine in a way that generates synergies – collaborative works should be greater than the sum of the individual parts. All too often, this is overlooked. Frequently we also forget about individuals.

John Jones and colleagues provide some valuable observations in the publication strategy+business: “Plans themselves do not capture value; value is realized only through the sustained, collective actions of the thousands… Companies will reap the rewards [of strategic plans] only when change occurs at the level of individual employees.”

What then if we apply what works for successful individuals (getting the job they want, prioritising their time as they choose etc.) to organisations that are made up of individuals? Can this help us explain why many organisations achieve such low rates of change success? More importantly, can we tap into what successful people do differently, starting at the individual level, to achieve organisational change success?

Clarify your problem and get specific

What type of problem are you facing? Is there a single best answer? If so, your plan will have highly specific steps to get there from the get go. For example, you could write down all the steps needed to renew a licence online and then follow that plan.

But, outcomes in complex challenges are often not so clear. You may, for example. want to increase collaboration in your project team. Rather than pursuing only a single option, you’d be well advised to try a few things simultaneously. Then, do more of what’s moving you towards your desired outcomes and less of what’s not working.

By taking many rapid, small steps, with a short horizon, you can be very specific about short term actions and progress quickly. At the same time, your higher-level goals with longer horizons can remain quite broad, which is appropriate for complex problems.

Seize the moment to act on your goals

Successful people not only have clear goals, they also hold them front of mind. This facilitates an opportunistic approach. If there is suddenly a window of time available, successful people don’t waste it. Similarly, being opportunistic means being open to changing your plans, even your goals, if different outcomes might take you further than your old plans. Complex challenges often present opportunities but many remain stuck in their old ways and overlook them. And, opportunity may not knock twice!

Know exactly how far you have left to go

Successful people not only know what has to be achieved, but they also know how they’re progressing. What sort of monitoring do you have in place for your change projects? Are people in a position to be able to self-monitor? What steps can they take when they’re behind, or ahead? Do they actively seek support to catch up, or is the slippage only detected at the big review meeting (which is unwieldy, detested and doesn’t seem to achieve much)? Continually checking whether current actions are moving you towards or away from your goals is a powerful technique.

Tapping into what successful individuals do differently

We ultimately rely on individuals to effect change. For this reason, it’s definitely worthwhile to harness the things successful people do differently for our organisational change efforts. So far, we’ve looked at three of the nine behaviours. We pick up on the remaining six in the action box below. Of course, it’s now up to you to apply these ideas to your own change initiatives!


More things successful people do differently

  1. Being a realistic optimist. Successful people have realistic goals, good plans and persistence. Set ‘stretch’ targets for change, but make sure they motivate rather than scare or lose your people.
  2. Focus on getting better rather than being good. Don’t just talk continuous improvement, follow through. Knowing exactly which aspects you want to improve will help direct attention and efforts.
  3. Have ‘grit’ (perseverance). Successful people commit and stick to goals that may take time to achieve. Change can be difficult. Be selective about the projects to choose, build resilience and foster a ‘can do’ attitude. It’s true – when the going gets tough, the tough get going!
  4. Build the willpower muscle. Willpower grows with practice/exercise. Have reasonable goals and a ‘Plan B’, ‘Plan C’ and ‘Plan D’ that people can use when things get tough – or when more beneficial opportunities emerge.
  5. Don’t tempt fate. This goes to recognising we mostly have finite resources. Choose a few key projects and focus on those. Plan and execute a few projects well, instead of chasing many that go on to fail or underperform.
  6. Focus on what you will do. Be positive. Help people focus on what needs to be done, not on what mustn’t be done. Trying to suppress thoughts makes them even more active!

Develop Leadership Capability

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Make hybrid workplaces work

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