Change is the only constant in life and as much as we all acknowledge this and commit to it, there\’s always the desire to manage them better. In our lives when we make decisions to pursue various initiatives and interventions, there is always a plan in place with clear expected outcomes which if all is to go well, we are bound to emerge victorious. Unfortunately, this is often not the norm but almost the exception. Why is it then that well crafted plans and change programs often fail to achieve their intended goals? Development specialists and psychologists have worked on unearthing these and understanding the drivers behind these trends with proposals on how better to manage change.
As a healthcare professional working to strengthen health systems, I have for a long time been involved in community mobilization and social behavior change programs with focus on helping individuals embrace positive behaviors such as hygiene & sexual practices that reduce their exposure risk to diseases. In the process of doing these, one of the key trends I have noted is that the principles behind the work and the execution is exemplary but there isn\’t always a reinforcement mechanism. I have observed the same in the professional circles where professional development philosophies and contributions are spoken about but rarely put into practice yet well acclaimed and professed by the very professionals. This got me thinking on how to support the transition from knowledge & awareness to appreciation and actual practice of what we profess and believe to be accurate. In this process I got to be part of the McKinsey Academy Forward Program training young professionals on essential leadership and problem solving skills to excel in their careers & lives. One key principle that I covered yesterday in one of the modules is the Influence Model which I am confident needs to be embraced extensively across spheres to ensure that the envisioned changes and positive developments we propose and argue for become a reality.
Last week taking part in a 4-day executive leadership workshop on \”Supply Chain Management in the Humanitarian Context\” we had the opportunity to discuss and learn on lifecycle management of humanitarian supply chains focusing on sustainability, ecosystem management, leadership and systems thinking. Of essence is the acknowledgement that humanitarian aid is for a good cause and hence should be embraced, supported and effective in realizing the successes as envisioned. Unfortunately, for the short-term interventions they almost always lead to some inadvertent negative consequences which may be long-term and the same happens for development programs. Why this happens was a topic of debate.
In my perspective for change to be sustainable and longstanding, there\’s need for awareness, buy-in, reinforcement mechanisms and role models to help institutionalize the change. We are only able to do what we know and what we\’ve seen others do so that we follow through. A child learns from what others in his/her environment are doing and that\’s why in parenting we are critical of the environments within which we raise our children. Unfortunately, when it comes to ourselves as adults including in corporate settings we tend to assume that the environment and presence of role models doesn\’t impact what we do. In a recent conversation with a colleague reflecting on professional careers, we noted that in making course choices students often decide based on what they\’ve seen and their perception of the person they know who is in that career. That\’s the extent to which social reinforcement and role modelling works.
Change management therefore needs to be supported in a structured mechanism and this is where I believe the influence model should be embraced i.e.,
- Foster understanding and conviction – create awareness about the change, need for the change and how it can be achieved to ensure all involved understand and appreciate the need for the same.
- Reinforcement mechanisms – establish reinforcement mechanisms where people acknowledge the principle for the change needed of them, supporting structures including incentive models & consequences of inaction. This is the phase of buy-in development which can be supported by leadership embracing the change and building confidence in the teams in their abilities to execute on the expected change.
- Talent & skill development – with clear understanding of the need for the change and how it is to be achieved, there\’s need to have the right people in the right positions to execute on the same. This is where organizations and institutions whether social programs or so have to work within their structures to ensure that individuals have the competencies to deliver on that mission. It may include recruiting new people, transferring others or even letting go of those not able to support the change process needed.
- Role modelling – this is the phase that helps ensure others follow through or not. By having leaders who do what has been professed in the change philosophy inspires others to learn and adopt the same in their practices. I can only be a great pharmacist if I\’ve interacted with another pharmacist who I believe is great at what they do and would wish to emulate them in that journey. By knowing what great looks like and having an example of it I have a goal to work towards and this is what makes a difference in change management.
In the last couple of weeks, I\’ve seen conflicted posts on social media pages with special interest on healthcare workers which are rather discouraging. When your doctor tells you to reduce your alcohol intake for medical reasons but goes ahead to do the exact opposite is a concern. The same is when he/she encourages responsible sexual conduct but embodies indiscriminate sexual advances & practices in the community. There\’s no reinforcing mechanisms hence no change will ever happen. We have to and need to do better. It\’s not easy but as Denzel Washington espouses, with disciple, commitment and consistency we can achieve our goals.