The “Blank Slate” of Change

Many of us attempt to write the script for new beginnings on our personal New Year’s “blank slate.” Because of socially shared beliefs in free will, positive thinking, and individual effort—we believe we can change whatever we choose.

Markets and businesses continually change. Metrics can motivate a business to act on its goals—such as sales, revenue, and overall growth objectives. Strategic planning focuses on the what, but may not adequately address how to make it happen.

Technically, once we have lived a few years we are not really blank slates, because we accumulate knowledge, capabilities, and experience. We also have a lot of baggage—dysfunctional behaviors, bad habits, biases, and an assortment of self-deceptions. Humans are complex beings, not robots. We have big brains that process a wide range of emotions, experiences, and desires. These factors make self-change, and organizational change complicated and difficult.

Reinforcers … the events that follow an action—control human behavior. Reinforcers that are positive will make a behavior stronger, but a punisher may eliminate it. Habits are strengthened and maintained by personal payoffs—and therefore are difficult to change. To maintain a new habit, you must have an alternative—and stronger payoff.

Business leaders and managers can use rigorous metric analysis to get information. Statistical processes examine every step and event, to see where the problems occur. Too often we try to change human behavior by sheer force of will—”let’s just do better.” But if we do not have honest and open communication to perform “root cause” analyses,” how will we isolate what to change? You cannot change what you do not know.

Leaders will fail to improve workforce activities if they demand different results—without understanding the complexities of cause and effect. Knowing which actions are correlated to which results, will support a change initiative.  Additionally, positive changes can be maintained with meaningful reward and recognition.

Prudent business managers construct positive organizational cultures. They understand what motivates an employee to do well on the job. They peel back the layers to get at “why does this problem happen, and what can we change—to get the results we want?”

Organizational change is not easy, but if you learn the right things about your business—positive change is possible.