Consequences are motivational. We choose (consciously or unconsciously to do certain things that we believe will bring us pleasure. We also choose (consciously or unconsciously to avoid doing certain things if we believe they will cause us pain or discomfort. Change in human systems is driven typically by either the positive consequences of achieving goals and visions of desired change or the negative consequences that may result if change does not occur, such as potential loss of productivity revenue, key employees, job, and loss of the business itself. This holds true for individuals and teams, though in many systems such consequences are not clear. For goals to be accomplished most effectively, all parties involved must be clear about the consequences of following through with or failing to follow through with their agreements.
To ensure change efforts in your organization are poised for the greatest possible success:
• make sure that those involved clearly understand the reason for the change and the desired outcome
• make sure that those involved understand their respective roles and responsibilities for accomplishing established goals
• understand what consequences, positive or negative, effectively motivate each individual, and
• clearly communicate the individually relevant positive and negative consequences of succeeding and failing to implement the change.
For many, the consequences of accomplishing goals and fulfilling agreements are sufficient motivators. For others, further motivation is needed and may take the form of additional coaching, disapproval of leaders and peers, loss of status or position, and even loss of job. What works depends entirely on what motivates any individual. Many efforts at change have failed due to a notable absence of clear and motivating consequences.
We design and implement various actions and events to create critical mass for some goal. In some fashion the system and the people in it will respond to those actions and events. Those responses—verbal and otherwise—are feedback that tells us if we have moved toward critical mass (positive feedback) or away from our goal (negative feedback). To be effective we must pay attention to and learn from this feedback to correct our course, if need be, or to hold steady.
In this vein, feedback is a data-gathering process. Such data can be gathered in several ways. Asking for feedback regarding the effectiveness of some event might be done with consensus checks that will tell you how close or how far you are from the needed agreement. I have worked with organization leaders who want to bring a discussion to closure about some action by asking if everyone agrees. When greeted with silence, I’ve heard the leader say, “OK, I’m taking your silence as consent to be disappointed when the requisite follow-through does not occur.” That silence might have been better interpreted as feedback indicating the possibility of concern regarding the proposal. Accordingly, the lack of follow-through might be seen as feedback indicating an insufficient critical mass.
The more important a project is the more important it is to gather, pay attention to, and understand all available feedback. Failing to do so easily leads to unnecessary do-overs and wasted time, energy, and money. Use a rigorous consensus checking process to be sure you have the buy-in needed or to further action that might better move you toward the critical mass of support needed.
Most organizational development literature has some version of the stages or steps of planned change. They go something like: contracting, data gathering, intervention, evaluation, and disengagement. I have problems with this framework. Each stage is an intervention in itself, yet intervention properly comes after data gathering. In addition, evaluation includes data gathering along with some analysis. Further, in real life, the sequence suggested in most literature does not account for various stages overlapping. For example, data gathering often leads to re-contracting – as might any other intervention. This makes the framework both confusing and unwieldy.
I have designed an alternative approach I am calling “Critical Interventions.” This approach acknowledges that all of the stages are interventions. It does not suggest any particular ordering, although the order in which they are offered may have some value.
From the perspective of applied behavioral science, an intervention is an action within a human system that is intended to move that system toward some specific change goal. In organization development terms, our interventions are designed to move the support for a specified goal toward critical mass http://tinyurl.com/supportsystems through engendering collaboration dynamics such as mutual understanding and the willingness to learn from differences. http://tinyurl.com/learningfromdifferences
Seven Critical Interventions
• Data Gathering
• Creating Possibility
• Contracting for Collaboration
• Event Planning and Implementation
• Feedback as a Learning Process
• Clear Consequences
Stayed tuned next week for our explication of “Data Gathering” and what makes it the very first of the “Seven Critical Interventions!”
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