Caterpillars Hate Behavior Change

If you are going to ask someone to make a change, how are you going to start? How are you going to get them to change their behavior and do something different? Whether that is take on a new job responsibility, move to a new department, start using a new system to pull information they need for their job…

A key item that most people would probably bring up  – – “You need to have a communications plan.” But what does that really entail? How do you start?

I always like to start with the WIIFM – the What’s In It For Me? I’m not the “me” in that acronym of course. The “me” is for the group of people I’m trying to convince to change. You’ve got to put yourself in their shoes and think about what will motivate them to change.

Take these caterpillars. What’s their WIIFM to make a change? They get to be butterflies! If someone was communicating to them about making a change and only got to the point of explaining how they will be wrapped up in a chrysalis, that wouldn’t sound very good – would it?

As you communicate a change to any audience, make sure that you have spent the time to understand the impacts to them and are able to communicate that to them in their language.

Ok, so now you’ve thought about the WIIFM, what else? Here are some other tips you should be sure to consider when planning your change communications:

  • Incorporate examples and model the new behavior. Don’t only rely on “stripes” and job titles and executive sponsors telling people they need to change. Those are helpful in getting some things done, but if that is the only thing motivating people to make a change, you may not get the sustained change you want when the “boss” isn’t looking. Find those informal leaders, the “water cooler” influencers, and get them to talk up your program. Find peers that may already doing what you want the whole group to do and get them to “show and tell”, explain and model the behaviors you want to see from the whole group.
  • Tailor your messages to specific audiences. A “one size fits all” communication is almost certainly doomed to fail. What motivates one person to change their behavior, may not influence another person or group of people at all. Take the time to find out what motivates your group. Test your messages with small groups before you roll them out to the whole group to see reactions to your message. Use that information to continue to tailor your message.
  • Plan how frequently to communicate.  Timing and frequency should be monitored to avoid information overload with your audiences. Be aware of other initiatives that compete for attention.
  • Communicate early and honestly. In general, it is better to communicate some information than wait until all questions can be answered. Also, provide ALL the necessary information (not only positive). Hidden agendas and half-truths can create resentment and resistance.
  • Communicate repeatedly and consistently. A consistent message repeated through many different media is worth its weight in gold! People will interpret messages differently. Be sure to use multiple mediums for the most effective reach. Provide a consistent message, but be aware of any unique requirements of each audience and location (see tailoring of messages in above bullet).
  • Communicate clearly. Avoid overly technical or complicated language. Use language that can be easily understood by all. A picture can be even better! Also, use face-to-face communications as frequently as possible, especially for more difficult or important messages. Face-to-face can also help to minimize misunderstandings, especially for a sensitive topic.
  • Listen and respond. Make sure that you have a way to get feedback on your communications. This can be a survey, an informal poll of your audience group, etc. If your communications are only going one way, you could go off-track and never know it.

Use all these tips to evaluate your communications and you’ll be further down the road to getting the behavior changes you are looking for!

Until next time … wishing you business readiness success!

Kirsten Jordan is a Partner at PeopleResults. She can be reached on Twitter @Kirstenkbdb. Sign up to receive her and her colleagues’ blog at Current.