Change is the essence of human resource development: Consultants are continually helping organizations and individuals to change. As a result, it is important not only for consultants to understand the process of change, but to explain it to their clients. Adult learners have expectations, and it is critical to take the time up front to clarify and articulate all expectations before getting into content.
Helping participants identify what will happen with them during a training session or organizational development process enables them to take individual steps toward positive and lasting improvement. One approach to this rests on a simple foundation: a model called “The Steps of Change.”
A Framework for Teaching New Skills
The model can help people move from awareness of a problem, to a defined understanding of it, to accepting responsibility, to resolving issues or responding more effectively to implemented change strategies.
The model can be used to teach leaders new skills or as an overlay to implement organizational change effectively. For example, with so many companies implementing various types of technology and restructuring, a consultant can use the model to help change leaders understand how to organize and implement the program successfully.
Let’s outline the model in more detail using a common desired outcome—increased delegation—as an example.
Four Steps to Success
Whether you are teaching leadership skills, customer service, team building, coaching an individual, or conducting an extensive organizational development process, you can begin by outlining four steps. Explaining them reduces anxiety and provides guidelines for each workshop or process.
Step 1: Acknowledging the Problem
People cannot change any behavior until they are aware of the problem. This step for individuals was best described as the “A-ha” experience by Fritz Perls years ago in Gestalt Therapy Verbatim. It is also depicted by cartoonists with a light bulb over the head of the character who achieves awareness.
When trainees acknowledge “Yes, a problem does exist and I want to do something about it,” they have taken the first step toward a solution.
You may find it effective to use a relevant example for each step. In a course on delegation, you can explain, “Often new leaders will not delegate jobs because they believe they get more done by doing the work themselves, and they will not consider assigning tasks until they perceive their lack of delegation as a problem.”
Step 2: Understanding the Problem
Once a leader is aware of the problem, he or she can move to the next step.
Often training is directed at changing something that used to work. New leaders are trained every year to delegate tasks that they used to do effectively. Many leaders still do those tasks themselves because they don’t understand delegation. Therefore, understanding is a necessary step in the process.
In describing this step, you can use an example from Kenneth Pelletier’s book Mind as Healer, Mind as Slayer. Pelletier explains that a young doctor came into a counseling clinic complaining of neck and back pain. Using biofeedback and counseling, the young doctor remembered that when he was 14 his father had punched him in the stomach and he had hunched his shoulders back and forth in a bellows-like fashion to catch his breath. In that situation the maneuver worked well.
But every time the doctor came into a stressful situation he would automatically shift to the bellows-like breathing pattern. Instead of catching his breath and relaxing, as he once had, he became tense and anxious. Pelletier sums it up admirably, stating, “What was once a perfectly functional response had become chronically dysfunctional.”
You can use this last sentence as an analogy and make it pertinent to any training session by stating that “understanding comes from discovering both past establishment and present manifestation of the behavioral pattern that needs to change.”
In our previous example, understanding comes when the leader realizes that the old way of “doing”—once a perfectly functional response, but now a chronically dysfunctional one—has to change to allow for a new concept, “delegating.” The step of understanding helps adult learners integrate new knowledge with previous knowledge.
Step 3: Taking Responsibility
Trainees must accept responsibility for their behavior, but taking responsibility doesn’t have to be a repressive burden or source of guilt.
Jack Schwarz offers a helpful paradigm for responsibility in his book The Path of Action. In Schwarz’s view, responsibility is response ability—the ability to respond—to ourselves, to a situation, to our job and to others.
As soon as trainees realize that they have the ability to respond to a situation and to learn from it, they have the power to change their behavior in that situation.
After defining the concept of responsibility, you may find it useful to explain to participants that behind most human behavior lies a positive intention.
Step 4: Newer, Better, Behaviors
If learners can discover the positive intentions that underlie their behaviors, not only will it be easier for them to accept the old negative behaviors but they will also be able to identify positive substitute behaviors to meet those intentions.
Managers who keep doing tasks rather than delegating them do not do this to overload themselves. Rather, they honestly believe not delegating will get the job done in the quickest, most effective way.
Leaders have the power to change through their awareness, understanding, and acceptance of the problem, once their intentions become clear. As soon as they believe that they have the ability to respond to the situation, they will move naturally into the final step in the process—change itself. In our example, the leader is close to success.
But most people will not give up a behavior if it seems to be the only way to bring about a positive intention. To respond to this fact, trainers and consultants must teach alternative behaviors to meet participants’ positive intentions. Therefore, in teaching effective delegation skills, trainers need to teach managers better ways to get tasks done.
With the importance of alternatives established, trainers can encourage participants to draw up contracts to motivate and commit themselves to new behaviors for a period of time. This gives the learners the time and experience necessary to integrate new behaviors into their work styles.
Depending on the subject matter, contracts can be elaborate or simple, verbal, or written. But it is essential that the contracts state the new behaviors and each participant’s commitment to a specific period to try the new behavior—at least two to three weeks for the delegation example.
Trainers should emphasize that follow-through is up to the learners and that no one else can do it for them. A part of each trainee says, “Go the old way.” Another part says, “Go the new way.” It is a struggle.
Trainees need to be encouraged that “going the new way” is important and work a little self-congratulations, but change is not complete until the new behavior is practiced and integrated into a repertoire of responses.
A Clear Path to Change
Outlining the steps of change gives participants a clear idea of what is supposed to happen to them personally and what to expect.
Diagramming the process makes change seem less threatening, while preparing trainees to participate more fully—and successfully—in each step.