Not all change is created equal. Even when people are highly motivated and open to needed changes, some changes are inherently more difficult to acquire and sustain. Furthermore, people can sometimes resist change both internally and externally in ways that block coaching, team performances, and change management efforts from reaching desired outcomes. Neuroscience demystifies many of the invisible obstacles associated with difficult change. Thanks to new science findings we can support people in a clear and powerful way through some of the most difficult change challenges along the way.
This short article series is designed to (hopefully) start you on a journey of discovery. It focuses on the fundamentals of neuroscience applications, specifically for making difficult change simple. It's an invitation to discuss the most cutting-edge answers to questions like:
Why are some changes really hard for us to adopt and sustain, even when we are motivated and have total buy-in?
How can we get people who do not want to change to experience a transformation that will make them open to needed changes?
How can we consistently and successfully overcome both internal and external resistance to change?
What does it take to make change sustainable?
What are the unique features of team-dynamics that make change difficult and how can we overcome them to optimize team performances?
What are the specific challenges and obstacles of change at scale and how can we design change efforts to impact change acquisition on the individual level with small daily tasks that are integrated into people's daily routines?
Answering these questions may mean that we will have to start looking at difficult and non-difficult changes as two different types of changes. It may also mean that the two types of change may require different approaches and principles. However, it does not mean we stop depending on highly effective traditional approaches and principles to change facilitation. Perhaps the best way to look at difficult change strategies is to see them as add-ons. These are principles and steps you'll need to take in addition to effective communication, transparency, and other traditional change facilitation foundations, so that you can support more difficult changes, ones which traditional change models can't fully achieve.
There are 3 critical components that you need to successfully manage to make difficult change simple:
Unlearning: Guiding people through the process of letting go of previous ways of doing things while trying to facilitate the adoption of new ways of doing things (rewiring). For example, adopting effective leadership behaviors and responses may require Unlearning. A leader may benefit from acquiring more effective non-judgmental, active listening behaviors but, at least in this example, he has been practicing less effective listening behaviors for years. This would be considered difficult change (click here to find out why) and would typically require managing both the acquisition of new skills while facilitating the Unlearning process to let go of previous ways of behaving and responding. More about Unlearning.
Effective Accountability: Change is sometimes uncomfortable. Some people can hold themselves effectively accountable, despite the discomfort, to acquire needed changes and achieve desired outcomes. However, most of us humans are not always great when it comes to depending on the internal motivation and resilience required to rewire our brain. In those very common situations and when Unlearning is involved, it is important to support people by creating a non-punitive but highly effective accountability structure (click here to read how accountability helps overcome internal resistance). An effective accountability structure must meet specific requirements like setting up assignments that people can be held accountable to, effective follow-up, and a specific preventive environment that makes it possible to avoid punishing or forcing people.
Change-Readiness Skills: This family of skills is different from performance-related skills (click here to lean how). It is specifically designed to change the way people respond to the discomfort of going through an Unlearning process. Whenever Unlearning is involved people experience internal resistance. Some people respond well to that internal discomfort but others resist is a variety of ways that blocks change from leading to desired outcomes (click here to read about internal vs. external resistance). Change-Readiness Skills equip people to respond more effectively to that internal discomfort which clears the way for adoption of needed changes and achieving desired results.
In addition to revealing this simple outline, Neuroscience provides us with specific principles and steps to combine these 3 components and streamline highly effective, simple, step-by-step processes to answer the questions we started with. If questions about difficult change are relevant in your specific situation, we invite you to check out the KCI training and certification programs, or just reach out if you have a specific question we can answer.