A recent article by Keith Ferrazzi featured in the Harvard Business Review Magazine July-August 2014 issue (sign-in required, account is free) focuses on organizational change, company culture, and individual behavior. He makes an interesting comparison between corporate change initiatives and 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous, observing the inherent difficulty in affecting individuals to try and effect a change on the overall culture, but also the similarity in effectiveness and method between the two:
“At the simplest level, the comparison is this: Organizations can’t change their culture unless individual employees change their behavior—and changing behavior is hard. Many change programs focus on providing strategies, technologies, and training. But often that’s not enough. When it comes to modifying deeply ingrained behavior, 12-step programs have a superior track record. They use incentives, celebration, peer pressure, coaching to adopt new habits, negative reinforcement, and role models—things organizations can draw on.”
He does recognize the limitations of the analogy, and explicitly says so, noting the gap in how subjects are encouraged to perceive themselves, as well as the difference in motivating factors between the two cultures:
“Analogies are never perfect, and there are clearly points where the comparison doesn’t hold. For instance, AA relies heavily on spirituality, asking participants to put their faith in a higher power and to declare themselves powerless—sentiments that are generally not appropriate for driving corporate change.”
While it is indeed the case that the personalities found in corporate coaching environments are probably less inclined to adopt a self-perception of powerlessness, He does go on to note some parallels in method:
“Still...we have found the comparison useful. Even people who have never attended a 12-step program know some of the basics from pop culture portrayals; making the similarities to corporate change explicit, as in the insights below, can help them understand the challenges of changing an organization’s culture and how to overcome them.”
Ferrazzi goes on to explain that much of the change and paradigm shift focuses on examining and modifying habits and behavior patterns. What many corporate change initiatives and 12-step programs share is a focus on paying attention to day-to-day habit formation, mindful awareness of the present, and stressing the importance of self-reflection.
In our experience as executive coaches, we take much the same track with our clients. The growing acceptance of neuropsychological methods of assessing mind-body health and its effect on performance, along with shifts in defining success in work and life means that we look at more metrics than we used to. For starters, we encourage an earnest self-assessment and reflection of day-to-day habits and behaviours, along with an exploration of what those actions entail and their possible consequences. It’s not just work habits, organizational communication, or operating policy we examine; we want to know how the busy executive stays healthy, how they relax, and how much time they devote to out-of-the-office pursuits. We want to know what their guiding purpose is, and how they maintain their center around it. And if in the process, we identify areas of potential change and growth, we’re there to help guide them through.
“Change is hard—particularly when the situation involves chemicals the body craves. Neuroscience has shown that people’s emotional responses to work create their own chemical reactions, releasing powerful neurotransmitters such as adrenalin, (sp) dopamine, and serotonin. Successful change can be addictive in a positive way. No matter how habituated employees are to established business practices, they can adapt to new ways of working.”
Whether one is attempting to reorganize their life in order to defeat an illness like addiction, work toward a personal goal of health or achievement, or recalibrate their personal habits in order to more successfully adapt to change or mitigate stress, the focus is almost always on paying attention to basics. This means doing the little things, like recognizing sources of stress for what they are, getting a good night’s rest, and engaging in healthy habits like stepping back from work to reflect. Most systems have a set of guidelines and recommended courses of action, and ours is no different.
Our new eBook, “Twenty Ways To Deal With (Too Much) Change at Work” is available on our online store and provides an effective suite of insights and observations to help you take stock of your own habits and process. It’s a great first step towards learning how to take back a sense of control in your day-to-day.