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Crack your personal and company New Year Resolutions

An 8-step Harvard model for Management of Change is the simple answer. Yes, you can lose weight too.


What is a New Year Resolution if not a plan for change: eat healthier, exercise, send less e-mails, become more organised… Both on personal and company level every start of the year gives a psychological clean slate to start fresh and aim high. The company #NewYearResolutions are the management’s targets and vision for the next 12 months: change corporate culture, transform customer service model, adopt a leaner structure in decision-making…


There is no university course in Management of Change without quoting the Harvard professor John Kotter and his research of the

8 most common errors of why transformation and change fails.

As simple as they are, this is the answer to not only company, but also to the personal change and improvement attempted by new year resolutions. Prof. Kotter specifically instructs that mistakes in each of the 8 steps can lead to failure so we have to be consistent in following them all the way through.


Error 1: Not establishing a great enough sense of urgency

Be frank about the unpleasant facts: which are the real reasons on why you want to change. Put it all on the table. If you don’t see the unpleasant facts, ask an external consultant (your best friend, your mom, your spouse) to tell them frankly to you. As prof. Kotter notes, good leaders often invite consultants to tell the unpleasant facts about the status quo. Second, realize that you have to act immediately on the change. Not next week, not next month, NOW! You have waited a whole year to make these New Year Resolutions, are you willing to waist another one?


Error #2: Not creating a powerful enough guiding coalition

This can never be said enough: you are not alone, there are many people who think good of you, who want to support you, who want to help you and who want to follow your lead. Gather them, talk to them, join them in an online group, spend more time with them. According to Kotter change is impossible unless the head of the organization (you!) is an active supporter of the change and unless a powerful coalition is established. So gather yourself with like-wise thinkers.


Error #3: Lacking a vision

Without a sensible vision, a transformation effort can easily dissolve into a list of projects of which you will be soon bored and demotivated. How to build a vision? Let’s assume you want to lose weight or to learn German, Italian or aikido. Imagine why exactly you want to lose that weight or to learn that German, Italian or karate. Picture yourself in a situation six months from now where you enter a meeting and start exchanging pleasantries with the foreign colleagues in German and see the awarding surprise in your boss’s eyes. Or virtually hear “Che bella!” on your summer vacation to Italy whispered by a dark handsome local when they look at your toned abs. Or imagine yourself and your partner both completing a marathon at 65 years old, still holding hands, smiling and ready to live at least 35 years more as you both made a choice for the healthy good regimen at an earlier age. Have this vision to inspire the change you want to make. To complete this step, prof. Kotter gives a great rule of thumb: this phase is successful only if you can communicate your vision to someone in 5 minutes (I say even less) and get a reaction that signifies both understanding and interest. If you get that, why not include this person into the step 2 guiding coalition. It is no wonder that the song says: when you are smiling, the whole world smiles with you.


Error #4: Under-communicating the vision by a factor of ten

The biggest mistake you can make with your resolution is to have it communicated on the lunch table of 31 December or under the influence of whatever you take… and forget about it. Do not let yourself down. You had this brilliant idea and insight to become better, smarter, more beautiful and amazing, and you will throw this away? Instead, make it is a point to use every channel of communication to share what you want to achieve. Tell it to your friends, tell it through your preferred social channels, share it at family lunch, share it to colleagues after the holidays, discuss it with your coalition partners. This will also help you to have people who can remind you of what a great plan you have. Think about everyday situation where your new year resolution, your change, will be useful – you will be able to run up the stairs more quickly and effortlessly if you get healthy weight, the colleagues will not avoid you in the elevators as you smell of cigarettes, etc. Be careful here though: if you only talk about intentions and do not talk and show actions and evidence that you are really making your goals work, people will hate you very soon. In the opposite case: you will inspire a new crowd to follow you by sharing your small wins and you will earn the respect of your followers. Key here is: keep the focus, keep the focus, keep the focus.


Error #5: Not removing obstacles to the new vision

Continuing the transformational change to a better you or company it is best to remove the obstacles. But first: define what they are! Example: if you don’t want to eat junk, don’t stock your fridge with junk; if you don’t want naysayers in your company, fix your hiring policy so you don’t attract them in the first place. Far from sight, far from mind is common sense. Do not go out with friends who smoke, at least for a while, if you want to quit the habit. Your actions are critical in this step. You have to remove the obstacles of people and actions that keep you away from your goal. Instead find a crowd that you can involve in the process progress.


Error #6: Not systematically planning for and creating short term wins

Real long term transformations of any kind take time. The biggest challenge is losing momentum after the initial enthusiasm if there are no short term goals to meet and celebrate. Planning for and achieving tangible short-term wins is different from hoping for short term wins. The first is active, requires things to be done, the latter is passible visualizing. The aim of our exercise to go through these steps is not to daydream (we should daydream in step 3 where we want to avoid the error of lacking a vision). Prof. Kotter notes in his research that pressure can be a useful element in a change effort. So next time you stay late to study or drink an aspirin to take away some muscle pain from exercises (I would recommend not to take any meds), know you are achieving short-term victories. Give yourself a pad on the shoulder! Share your success and let other people congratulate you too.


Error #7: Declaring victory too soon

Imagine you decided as a new year’s resolution to save money and avoid debt in 2018. If in the end of January you manage to save 100 euro and pay up a late bill, it will not be a good idea to go out and celebrate this victory by buying the new iPhone number N. Same mistake is made in gyms all the time. People puff and strain themselves for hours with heavy lifting and rope jumping, only at the end of the training to go and drink that soda or smoke this rewarding cigarette. Beware of false victories and rewards.


Error #8: Not anchoring changes in the corporate culture

This is the last step but possibly the hardest. Any change, which is not incorporated as a habit in our daily life, will not stay and will slowly yield into the old ways. Prof. Kotter calls it ‘the way we do things around here’. Positive examples: ‘I can’t help but go to the gym at least three times a week, it makes me happy’, ‘My stomach does not hurt as I stopped eating junk food’, ‘The bank stopped calling me as I am finally into the habit of planning the big expenses in advance and to avoid impulse shopping’, ‘I mediate every morning for 10 minutes and makes wonders with my aim to reduce stress’. Make the new habits noticeable for everyone in an attempt to show with real evidence how new approaches and behaviors improve performance.

If leadership teaches us anything, it is that

as a leader you are stronger the more followers you have.

Motivate also others to avoid the most common mistakes and achieve their goals simply by sharing these advises or inspire with your personal path to success.


References:

Kotter, J.P. ‘Leading Change: Why transformation Efforts Fail’, in Price, D. (ed) (2009) The Principles and Practice of Change, Basingstroke, Palgrave Macmillian/Milton Keynes, The Open University. Wikipedia, Article on John Kotter (last updated 8 November 2013), [Online], available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Kotter (last accessed 31 December 2013) Lehrer, J., (2011) ‘Contagious Habits: How Obesity Spreads ‘, Wired magazine, [Online] , available at http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/04/how-habits-spread/ (last accessed 31 December 2013) Wikipedia, (2013), ‘When you are smiling’, last updated on 15 December 2013, [Online], available at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/When_You’re_Smiling (last accessed 31 December 2013) Time magazine (2012), ‘Top 10 commonly broken New Year’s resolutions’, [Online] available at http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/completelist/0,29569,2040218,00.html (last accessed 31 December 2013)

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