Most of us talk about what we’d like to change in the world, while a few people stop talking and just do it. I’ve been talking about changing my weight for twenty years. In fairness to me, I have increased it. That’s change, just not the kind I was hoping for. What I want to discuss are the people who create positive change that move our world forward.
In their book Influencer: The Power to Change Anything, the authors discuss a psychologist named Albert Bandura, a genius whose remarkable ability to influence has attracted a lot of attention. In his early years of practice, Dr. Bandura generated a remarkable body of knowledge that led to changed behaviors around topics other “experts” had dawdled with for years. They said:
Phobics who’d spent years on a couch were freed in hours. Addicts who had used drugs for decades became clean in weeks and were well on their way to making the transformative changes in their lives that would keep them clean. Individuals struggling with obesity for a lifetime developed new habits in months.
What he taught with his proactive studies on human behavior was that we don’t need to lie on a couch for five years and discuss our problems before we can change. We don’t have to bring in multiple committees to study change before we begin to do things differently. What we DO need to do is believe that the implementation of specific behaviors is key to all change. If you can change how people behave, you can start changing processes and environments immediately.
I remember watching my son and daughter determine who would get to watch their show on television. They were four and six -years-old, and were allowed to watch television for one hour in the afternoon. My son wanted to watch football, and my daughter wanted to watch a re-run of C.H.I.P.S. She had a crush on Larry Wilcox. I mean, who didn’t? Those cop outfits were so tight I’m not sure how they mounted their motorcycles without ripping their pants.
Anyway, I told them they would have to come to a consensus without my help. Sitting on the couch together, their little legs sticking straight out in front of them, I watched as my daughter asked her brother, “What do you want to watch, Jacob?”
Jacob replied with lots of confidence and a big smile saying, “I want to watch football!”
My daughter reared back with her arm and smacked him on the side of the head. Jacob looked stunned, but didn’t say anything. My daughter repeated her question. “What do you want to watch, Jacob?”
Jacob replied with less confidence, his voice shaking slightly, repeating “I want to watch football?”
Samantha reared back with her arm again, and Jacob braced for the blow. She smacked him on the side of the head again. She asked the question again, calmly, “What do you want to watch, Jacob?”
Jacob finally responded with a question, asking, “I want to watch C.H.I.P.S.?”
Samantha hugged him and said with a smile, “You’re a good bwother, Jacob.”
Jacob complied, but at a cost. To this day he resists any recommendation Samantha makes on movies. If she wants him to go, he refuses. She paid a long-term price for a short-term win.
Too often that’s how we create change in Corporate America. We create a list of tasks, punish people for the wrong answers, and then decide we’ve created change when followers mechanically do what we want. We think that project management is the same thing as behavioral change. It isn’t.
So are my tips from C.H.I.P.S.:
1. Stop smacking people in the head, and make sure you enroll them in the decision.
2. Stop confusing the act of checking off completed tasks with lasting changes in behavior.
3. Remember that demanding change creates short-term change at best, malicious compliance at worst.
However, if you are four-years-old and want an immediate result, a smack in the head can be effective.