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

Behavior Change Theory – Choosing Between “Must” and “Want”
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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
We know from our change management simulation data that most 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 both the problem and the solution.Remember to be sincere about your interest in their thoughts, ideas, and concerns. Change is never easy. Acknowledge that it may take time and effort.
  2. Paint a Compelling Picture of Success
    Make sure the big picture strategy and end result will appeal to those who matter most. Employees need and want to know that there’s something meaningful in it for them. This is the “carrot” that makes their work toward change worthwhile.The goal must have clear benefits that people can almost see, hear, 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 the desired changes. Recognize and reward their efforts until the majority of the population is following the new norm. Then, most naysayers will begin to change as well; 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 desired state, 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 that is more rewarding (greater benefit).  With this approach, behavior change becomes a more natural path to where you want to go.

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

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