Lately, I have been thinking a lot about creating and sustaining positive change for individuals and organizations. Many of us may wish to transform ourselves in some manner or lead change within our organizations, but oftentimes are frustrated with the results we achieve. Understanding how to assess and harness human behavior to help people improve and sustain their improvements is a fascinating exercise and is fundamental to human progress. Creating change whether for ourselves or when motivating others as part of a much larger effort, requires communicating, learning and support.

Of course, much has been written about how people and companies change for the better. In many ways, however, these models are too cumbersome to be practical for the average person or manager. At core, though, a change agent needs to foster Level III learning before he or she can hope to witness the fruits of their personal or enterprise-wide change effort.

Change begins when we learn. A very simple way of framing learning and change is to imagine a progressive three-level model encompassing: Awareness, Knowledge or Understanding and Positive Transformation.

Level I: Awareness Awareness — while a critical starting point — is the most elementary level of learning. When we are presented with a new idea or a different perspective we acquire a basic-level awareness. We may listen to the lyrics from a song, read a provocative book or watch a compelling film and gain a new way of looking at the world. This awareness of somethng different may prompt us to seek more knowledge or to change our attitudes and behaviors to conform with our new point-of-view.

Level II: Knowledge or Understanding Armed with a new point-of-view we may become inspired to seek additional information. Gaining a deeper knowledge or understanding around a given issue helps us to prepare for a possible change by understanding the nuances and subtleties surrounding the issue and how those might apply to our particular situation.

For each of these two levels we must appeal to the individuals rational and emotional minds to inspire change.

These first two levels are the easy part, however, and far too often this is where the change process ends for many people and organizations. It is not until we persevere and pursue Level III learning that we can hope to make real lasting positive change for ourselves and our organizations.

Level III: Positive, Sustained Transformation Creating lasting change requires employing infrastructure, systems, processes, routines and support to help willing and committed people persist in their change efforts, document success and proceed with a cycle of continuous improvement. Only by investing in thoughtfully designed approaches to these elements can we improve our personal and organizational capabilities to drive change.

Take Weight Watchers, for example. Many of us would have no trouble recognizing whether we would need to lose weight. We are likely to hear so from our doctors, or spouses, our children, and of course, we cannot hide from the mirror or tight-fitting clothes. We are presented with rational arguments for reducing our weight (e.g. lowering risk of heart disease, increasing mobility, raising energy levels), as well as, emotional appeals (e.g. we want to play actively with our children, we want to live to see our grandchildren, we want to look more attractive). Weight Watchers advertises about weight-loss benefits and raises awareness about their solution. Very simply we have reached Level I learning and are on our way to Level II.

These rational arguments and emotional appeals may motivate us to research and study further. Again, Weight Watchers provides instruction and educational resources concerning different diet and exercise plans and how each of these would apply to our unique body types, physiological chemistry, our attitudes, behaviors and desired lifestyle. With this new learning we have now achieved Level II.

While we may be moderately more likely to initiate our personal change effort at this stage (in this example following the diet and exercise regimen designed for our weight loss), many of us will never begin the process at all or will quit in progress after becoming frustrated by the difficulty or lack of immediate results. Weight Watchers recognizes this and consequently has instituted a suite of Level III solutions designed to help its clients through the difficult process of change. Weight Watchers recognizes that we all need systems, processes, tools and other resources if we are to improve our prospects for lasting positive fitness. How does Weight Watchers “operationalize” its Level III learning? It does so by:

  • Making specially prepared food products to control portions and nutrient intake;
  • Developing a simple point system that is published on many popular
    [non-Weight Watcher specific] food products that removes the guess-work around eating right;
  • Managing online tools to help users access additional information; track their progress and communicate with others striving to change;
  • Providing regularly scheduled support groups;
  • Offering ongoing mentoring and coaching to encourage customers, to motivate them when times are tough and to present solutions to common problems and challenges experienced when losing weight.

So, when you are approaching your next significant change effort — whether it be for yourself, your clients or your organization — you will benefit from thinking how to speak to the rational and emotional dynamics of change and creating the systems and processes that lead to Level III learning. Recognizing that to be a change agent, a leader must provide the structure and support necessary to make the change as simple and palatable as possible for those who want to transform.

Are you ready for a change? We know many of our readers are reinventing themselves and their businesses. Others are shifting from being an employee to an entrepreneur. And some of you are venturing out into the consulting world. We’ve created a few quick-read ebooks that you can find in our tools section.

A great new book that will inspire change is called Rethink. It’s fresh, will get you thinking and can help make something happen.

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