Do Not Underestimate the Environment Required to Sustain Change

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Change and change management is difficult to initiate but some would say it is even more difficult to sustain. For tips on how to more effectively begin and sustain corporate change, let’s look at a classic change challenge for individuals…weight loss.

All too often January 1st sees a flurry of new gym memberships and investments in multiple six-packs of Slim Fast-type diet drinks. Enthusiasm is high for the first two weeks or so and then the pounds start coming back. It is not easy to change habits of a lifetime!

Certainly being an integral part of an environment that supports and reinforces the desired change can help. You may be familiar with the TV program, The Biggest Loser. The show features obese people competing to win a cash prize of $250,000 by losing the highest percentage of weight relative to their initial weight. Michael Ventrella was the winner in Season #9 having lost a record 264 pounds. His total percentage of weight loss was over 50%.

Of course, this was not the first time Michael had tried to lose weight. He had tried and failed many times before. The difference for Michael this time was being integrated into a performance environment that set him up to succeed. For example, he:

  • survived a difficult audition process
  • committed to a proven regime of diet and exercise
  • worked on his individual plan with the support of expert doctors, trainers and nutritionists
  • measured progress and weighed in weekly individually and as part of a team
  • competed with others and knew where he stood compared to his goals
  • tapped into the support of people who had done it before
  • lived in a private and remote location set up to support him and his team

In other words, he competed for the opportunity to be selected; committed to the goals; had ongoing coaching; was measured regularly with scores shared across the group; and was inspired by leaders who had been successful. All of the elements for creating the environment for change were present. And he proved that he could change…dramatically so.

But somewhere along the line after the show, something went wrong. In fact many of the show’s contestants gained back much of the weight they had lost. There are studies being done to explain how hard the body fights back against weight loss. But the lesson we need to glean from this experience for our own corporate change initiatives is that initial achievement is only that…initial.

If you want to be successful at change over the long term, you have to be vigilant as you keep the goal of change in front of you and your employees. It is not enough to hit the target once…you need to keep hitting the target (and creating the environment to support it) again and again. Maintain focus on the benefits of change, encourage and track the behaviors necessary to stay the course, keep moving in the right direction, and never give up when it comes to creating the environment and circumstances for change to last.

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