As we have seen in part 1 and part 2, changes in human thinking processes provide a fairly effective if potentially complex way of introducing better practices within organizations. This can be complemented with other processes to increase or accelerate success.
Measures and metrics
In his presentation1, Humberto Baptista describes measures as a “third way” towards change, situated between the mental and the physical. Indeed, they fit neither fully into one, nor the other, but constitute a mix of both: by measuring something physical (desired effects), they help to change the mental (thinking processes).
A few important points are worth highlighting in relation to performance metrics:
- Their only purpose for existing is to drive new behavior. Anything else distracts from or even harms this purpose.
- Contrary to common belief, measures do not have to be precise: it is far more important that they measure the correct behavior. “It’s better to be approximately right than to be precisely wrong,” as Eli Goldratt used to say.
- Measures do not need rewards or punishments to be effective, as most people actually want to meet goals by nature. In fact, this can even have the opposite effect: the reward becomes the actual goal instead of the metric itself. This can lead to behaviors such as porting sales figures into the next year and similar.
- It is equally dangerous to introduce too many metrics, as this makes it easy to lose sight of the desired behavior. This also adds the risk of different metrics contradicting each other (as we cannot foresee all possible ramifications) and negatively influencing behaviors.
- If the consequences (i.e. the measured effect) are too far removed from the behavior, this makes it difficult to understand the underlying cause-and-effect relationships. This can lead to the impression that we cannot influence the metric anyway, which makes it much more likely that we will ignore it (thus further increasing this conviction).
In short: even if it is tempting to develop a complex system of performance monitoring, less is generally more.
Changes in the environment
Making changes in the physical environment is the third way of getting people to behave differently. This often takes longer to show results, but can be just as effective in the long term. Let us return to Humberto Baptista’s model of reality from part 1:
Here you can see very clearly that it is a cycle (highlighted in red). Making a change in the physical environment which forces people to make different decisions will – after a while – change their thinking processes too. In this case, it is left up to them to discover the underlying cause-and-effect relationships that would otherwise have been made explicit to them.
To provide an example: in order to increase throughput, a multi project organization decides to freeze the number of active projects. As this seems like a counter-intuitive measure at first sight, project managers and resources will be tempted to keep starting projects early. This can be prevented with a physical change: the necessary raw materials (or similar) are not released until the agreed project launch. Here the environment is causing the employee to behave differently, and over time they will realize for themselves that fewer active projects really do lead to better performance (and will stick to the new procedure of their own accord).
This approach usually takes longer, but can be much more effective, as the employee makes the necessary cause-and-effect connections themselves and feels much more emotionally tied to them: experiencing something yourself will always leave a bigger impression than simply being told. Additionally, physical changes are a lot easier to implement on a large scale – and they are much more stable: as long as the environment remains changed, so does the behavior (provided employees cannot “cheat”).
This is where limitations become apparent: a truly “uncircumventable” change is very difficult to create. If people aren’t convinced by the change, they will have no incentive to change their behavior. And humans are resourceful: if they are motivated enough, they will find a way around the change.
Together we are strong
This is why you will be most successful if you combine all three avenues – mental and physical, supported by appropriate metrics – into one truly effective change initiative.
Each of the three options acts in support of the other two:
- The mental change ensures people won’t try to circumvent the new procedures.
- The right (few!) measures give helpful feedback on whether they are successful at putting the new behaviors into practice.
- The physical changes act as reminders in case old habits and reflexes tempt them to remain within their old paradigms.
It is worth keeping an eye out for the three proposed avenues during your next change initiative. Which of the three are you already implementing? Perhaps you can easily add another one into the mix? There is no imperative to use all three in all situations, but it can be very helpful to integrate one additional aspect into your initiative in order to anchor changes more quickly and more effectively.
1 Humberto R. Baptista, The Avenues of Change: Why people Change and How to Manage the Process, http://Tocio.net/TheAvenueofChange.pdf