Imagine sitting in a brainstorming meeting coming up with ways to make your workplace better. After some healthy debates, your team decides on some changes that will create a better way of doing things. Unfortunately, when you try to roll out the plan, you get nothing but resistance. Don’t you wish you had a magic wand that could help people see that changes need to be made?
Trying to implement change can be tough. People dig in their heels and resist, in large part because of the way the human brain functions. There are neurological processes that must occur before people agree to changes, and not knowing about these processes can create unnecessary stress. Thankfully, there are things we can do to bring about faster and better adaptation to needed change.
In this article, I’d like to point out three components that allow you to build a magic wand for implementing change in the best possible way. I need to point out that these three components do not originate with me. They were identified by David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz in their research on the neuroscience of leadership. The first component is focus. The second is expectation. And finally, attention density.
A person’s focus is extremely powerful. Consider the phrase, “That on which you focus you get more of.” By focusing our attention on something, we stabilize our brain circuitry. When working with teams to effect change, the first thing to do is get people focused, and that means giving them a desired picture of the future. Usually done with word pictures, the idea is to give your team a mental image of what you want, not what you don’t want. This is important, because mental circuitry resists being changed once a picture is in place.
Ever try to get someone to do something by telling them what you didn’t want them to do? The story that made the biggest impact on me regarding the importance of proper focus comes from one of the best pitchers in Major League Baseball history, Warren Spahn. In game four of the 1957 World Series, Spahn was one out away from winning the game for his team, the Milwaukee Braves. Tension was high. It was the top of the ninth and the Braves were ahead 4-1, but two men were on base for the New York Yankees and respected slugger Elston Howard was at the plate with a full count.
Spahn’s manager, apparently trying to break the tension, called “time” and came out to the mound. The only thing he said was, “Whatever you do, don’t throw him a high outside pitch.” After the manager returned to the dugout, the only words flashing through Spahn’s mind were “high” and “outside.” That inadvertently became his focus, and as you might imagine, Spahn’s next pitch was high and outside. Howard swung on it for a home run and tied the game.
Although the Braves eventually went on to win the game and the series itself, Spahn shared this story with many groups throughout the years, questioning why anyone would ever motivate another person by giving them a mental picture of what they didn’t want.
In terms of focus, paint a picture of what you want, not what you don’t want.
The second magic wand component is the power of expectation. To illustrate this, consider two executives: One sees workers primarily as lazy while the other sees them as desiring to do their best. Each one will look for – and see – behaviors that validate their expectations.
If people don’t see what they’re expecting, their brains perceive an error, and errors often create a sense of fear. Since people don’t like being in error or in fear, they tend to look very hard to see what they want to see, even if it isn’t there!
Because fear is an obstacle to making changes, team leaders must create what I call “emotionally safe conditions” for people to be open to change. They can do that by asking people to explore possibilities. In other words, come up with their own expectations. The important thing is to let team members see possibilities on their own terms. People rarely believe things will be better just because you say so.
The component that ties everything together is attention density. This phrase refers to the amount of attention given to a particular subject over time. Stated another way, talking about change is not a one-and-done thing. You must keep talking about the big picture and exploring possibilities with people on a regular basis.
Attention density is one of the reasons executive coaching is so effective. A one-day training workshop puts you face-to-face with new material for eight hours straight. But if you acquire that learning one hour per week over eight weeks, you’ve devoted the same amount of time, but you internalize a much higher percentage of the subject matter because of the two things we’ve talked about. First, your brain gets to stabilize its mental circuits on the subject (focus), and second, you’ve had time to recognize and own the possibilities that accompany the changes being made (expectation).
These three components are equally powerful when you want to implement change in your workplace.
- Talk about the big picture (Focus)
- Ask people about their ideas (Expectation)
- Do both of these often, and do them informally (Attention Density)
By the way, as you interact with people, you can also share insights other team members have had, thus building momentum and unity. Also, never correct anyone if their ideas aren’t exactly what you’d like to hear. Your magic wand is for bringing about positive change, and bringing it about in its best form and with greater buy-in.
Bottom line, putting focus, expectation and attention density together forms a powerful tool – a magic wand, if you will – for sharing information, capturing ideas and getting everyone rowing together in the direction of needed change.
– Daniel Bobinski, M.Ed. is a certified behavioral analyst, a best-selling author and a popular speaker at conferences and retreats. He loves working with teams and coaching individuals to help them achieve workplace excellence. Reach him through his website, www.MyWorkplaceExcellence.com, or (208) 375-7606.