Sustaining the Change

Written by: David McClaskey

How to get people and organizations to sustain a positive change is probably one of the most important, yet vexing hurdles in all of leadership. As such, sustaining a change is one of the topics that I research and incorporate into training leaders from all over the world. In Pal’s Business Excellence Institute (Pal’s BEI) Achieving World-Class Results class, we describe how the Baldrige-winning fast-food brand, Pal’s Sudden Service, has developed a culture and leadership system that enables them to sustain all improvements and replicate them in all applicable stores and areas.  In this blog, I want to share some of the research-based best practices on sustaining positive changes in the workplace that are discussed in the excellent book: Pre-Suasion: Channeling Attention for Change by Robert Gialdini. I will also describe how Pal’s Sudden Service has built this research into its world-class operational excellence systems.

Gialdini mentions three major researched-based approaches that help sustain a positive change:

  1. Obtain a strong commitment through immediate action

A person taking an immediate action in a desired direction can lead to a strong, sustainable personal commitment. Actions that have the most impact on commitment and thus provide the most opportunity for sustainability, are actions that affect personal identity. Actions that have the best chance of impacting personal identity have the characteristics that they are both freely chosen and either substantial or difficult. If a chosen action is freely given and either substantial or difficult, it reinforces the self-perception that the person believes this is the correct direction. Research has labeled this, “behaviorally influence self-perception.” For example, if you make a substantial financial contribution to a political party, you will be more inclined to identify with and support that political party’s beliefs. Simultaneously, others will also believe that the political party’s beliefs are part of your identity or beliefs.

Pal’s Sudden Service incorporates this research in its day-to-day operations.  Thom Crosby, CEO and President of Pal’s Sudden Service, describes a key element of Pal’s change process as “behave your way into a new way of believing.” Every change Pal’s makes creates a ripple effect: once a change is approved, then the associated processes and related training are also changed. Training is then conducted, and the changed behavior begins immediately upon completing the training. Organizational leaders will then direct their attention towards making sure the change is carried out in every – and all – applicable situations. Such action leads to a very strong commitment to the change.  For example, within Pal’s new employee orientation, the “Conditions of Employment” are clearly explained to each new employee in behavioral terms during a one-on-one discussion with the manager. The discussion is conducted during the first few hours of a new employee’s time on the job.  During this discussion, the new employee personally commits to always exhibiting each condition of employment via a verbal “yes” response to the manager and a written check mark on the “Conditions of Employment” form.

  1. Cue desired behavior

Surround an interior workspace with cues that promote the desired behaviors. For example, if you want your workforce to show good teamwork, you may have posters or pictures that show people working together in a happy and harmonious way. The cues, whether in the form of pictures, sounds, sayings, etc., need to help link to the part of the brain that shows a preference for the desired behaviors. In this case, the desired behavior is teamwork.

One of the ways Pal’s Sudden Service has incorporated this research is through the pervasive use of role modeling to cue the desired behavior.  In Pal’s world, precisely following the procedure is the desired behavior. Therefore, everywhere a person looks, everyone is following the procedure associated with their job. This cues each individual to also precisely follow the specific procedure required by their position.

  1. Document future plans

Writing down future situations that will be encountered – along with the desired behavior that supports the agreed to direction – can lead to a significantly increased probability that the desired behavior will consistently occur.

Pal’s Sudden Service incorporates this research within its procedures by documenting the desired behavior that needs to occur under almost all circumstances that an employee would face on the job. Pal’s culture, as noted above, is one of extremely high procedural compliance.

Actions you can take: As you see examples of the afore-mentioned three approaches to sustain change in your workplace, comment on this blog and share them. Also, share new things that you may incorporate into your workplace as a result of reading this blog or attending the Achieving World-Class Results class. I highly recommend reading (or listening to) the book: Pre-Suasion: Channeling Attention for Change by Robert Gialdini, which is filled with research-based ideas that can be pragmatically applied to any workplace. And if you want to see the full, highly integrated system, make sure you and your entire leadership team attend the Pal’s BEI class on Achieving World-Class Results.