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The two most dangerous words for managing change

October 25, 2016


What do most people do if they're having a hard time or feeling stressed at work? Well, in the short term, they might find solace outside work, through sport, hobbies or perhaps a pampering holiday. In the longer term, and if the problems persist, they might start looking for another job.


If someone wants to lose weight, stop smoking or get fit, they might make changes to how they behave, what they eat, for example, or who they spend time with. They might follow a particular diet or exercise programme.


These changes have four distinct flaws in common:


  1. They tend to be crisis, pressure or event-driven, ie they come about as a reaction to an external stimulus - a health scare, for example

  2. They are often transitory in nature, ie the change lasts only until the current situation is resolved, the goal is achieved or the discomfort of the new behaviour (the diet or life without alcohol, for example) becomes greater than the psychology of quitting

  3. The change takes place at a low 'logical level', for example at the level of environment or behaviour

  4. Changing our environment (holiday), behaviour (diet food) or even beliefs (if I get fit I'll feel healthier) does not change our identity or sense of self (I am... a smoker / fat / stupid / not management material / not the sort of person who goes to university etc)


What does this mean? Einstein said 'a problem cannot be solved at the same logical level at which it was created'. Robert Dilts' Logical Levels model helps to see this more clearly:




If a problem is caused at the Behaviour level (eating cakes, drinking five pints of lager every night, ignoring a team member's poor timekeeping and hoping it will improve without the need to take action), it will never change while the 'perpetrator's identity of him/herself remains 'I am fat, I am a heavy drinker or I am not a confident manager.


Therefore the first step in managing change, either in oneself or in others, is to recognise a person's current identity of themselves or their sense of self. If this is mismatched with the role the person wishes to take on (for example a fit person or a competent manager), then new behaviours, a new environment or training courses will be short-lived if their identity or sense of self remains the same.


In other words, the two most dangerous words if you're trying to change are 'I am...'!

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