Behavior Change Theory – Choosing Between “Must” and “Want”

A man has two choices that apply to behavior change theory: need and want

Thinking About Behavior Change Theory
Which are you more likely to choose…spending your time on something you are told to do or on something you want to do?

Easy, right? Of course, we would go for what we want to do rather than for what feels like an obligation.

Basic Human Nature
It’s basic human nature to avoid something painful and to want something pleasurable.  And this is what many behavior change experts forget when they try to change behavior…especially in the workplace.

People Like Choices

People like to feel that they have a real choice and that the choice they make will benefit them in the end.  If you are embarking on a program of behavioral change at your organization, you need to keep the behavior change theory basics in mind and make them work for, not against, you.

Start with a Clear Picture of the Desired State
Once you have determined what organizational change needs to be accomplished, you need to have a clear picture of what that change will look like and how you will communicate its benefits to your work force. Your objective is simple…facilitate the adoption of new behaviors for the good of the individual, the team and the business.

Four Behavior Change Theory Steps to Successful Change

#1.  Actively involve employees from the start
A critical piece of behavior change success is individual buy-in. If you actively involve those affected by change from the beginning, people are going to feel some ownership of the problem and the solution.

Be sincere in your interest in their thoughts, ideas and concerns. Change is never easy. Acknowledge that it may take time and effort.

#2.  Paint the picture of success
Make sure the end result will appeal to those who matter most. Employees need and want to know that there’s something in it for them. This is the “carrot” that makes their work toward change worthwhile. The goal must have clear benefits that they can almost see, taste and feel.

#3.  Give people a sense of control
There will most likely be some who resist the change. Focus instead on those who embrace it. Recognize and reward their efforts. Most nay-sayers will soon join them; a few may decide to leave and that’s OK.

In the end, you need employees to commit to the change on their own…to “want” to reach the goal, not feel that they “must.”

#4.  Take one step at a time toward the goal
Don’t expect the change to be accomplished all at once. Real behavior is changed slowly and over time. If you work with existing routines, rather than against them, you stand a better chance of changing behavior as new actions become habits one step at a time.

The Bottom Line
Take a page from those who have learned what works in product design and creation. Consumers are much more likely to choose a product that they feel they can accept or reject (freedom and autonomy) and is more rewarding (greater benefit).

With this approach, behavior change becomes a more natural path to overall workplace improvement.

To learn more about change behavior theory, download Rhapsody in Change: How to Mobilize, Design and Transform Your Change Initiative

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