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Innovation Insight : Stop playing “Whac-a-mole” with behavior change

The key to unlocking successful change and innovation is to uncover the underlying mindsets that are driving the undesirable behaviors, and then shift them to focus on achieving goals and improving performance.

It’s a fairly typical scenario: An organization is in the midst of a large-scale change. The management invests considerable time and resources to develop protocols and programs to support their new direction. In the beginning, these efforts work; KPIs may even increase. But before long, old behaviors begin to pop up and progress toward the new direction slows down. In this way, driving behavioral change can be like a game of “Whac-a-mole” in an arcade. You implement programs that pound one mole (behavior) into its hole only to find the same mole (behavior) pops up elsewhere in the organization.

The key to unlocking successful innovation and change to finally stop playing “whac-a-mole” is to uncover the underlying mindsets that are driving the undesirable behaviors, that undermine progress and achieving goals. Evidence of this is from a survey of executives, whereby companies that did no work to diagnose mindsets never rated their change programs as “ extremely successful ”, whereas companies that took the time to uncover and reframe mindsets were four times as likely to rate their change programs as “ successful ”.

Uncovering mindsets sounds great in theory, but what does it look like in practice ? The three main steps to diagnosing and transforming mindsets are –

1. Identify Helping and Hindering Behaviors

The first step in uncovering mindsets is to identify the behaviors that are critical to achieving goals and monetizing value creation. When identifying critical behaviors, first determine what the desirable behavior looks like – where you want to go. From there, it’s time to think about the actual behaviors – where you are today. A great question to ask yourself is, “ If I were following an employee around for a day, what behaviors would I see ? “ For example, a bank wants to deliver “One Firm” to its clients, and that critical behavior was identified as cross-selling products. This is a good start.

2. Uncover the Underlying Mindset Drivers

Once the most critical behaviors are identified, the next step is to dive deep into understanding the underlying mindsets driving those behaviors. This requires using an assortment of techniques to understand what are the beliefs of smart, hard-working and well-intentioned personnel that drives their behaviors. The size of your organization may dictate the techniques you use (i.e. deep structure interviews for small groups, scalable assessments for the enterprise). With this, it’s important to engage with as many people as possible to have an accurate representation of a group and the culture. Since it is very important, it is recommended having a combination of personnel across levels (from front-line to leaders) and departments for a business unit-level change or business units for an enterprise-wide change.

It’s also important not to confuse an external force with a mindset. For example, a misalignment of incentive systems or a lack of role modeling is not a mindset. You’ll know when you’ve reached a mindset when it evokes a “that’s so us!” response, and it makes sense why people are acting the way they are. For example, a bank realized that 90% of its employees were focusing their efforts based on the underlying mindset around what they thought their job was – to give Customers what they requested but didn’t provide insight to enable Customers make the best decision on their finances given their goals, risk tolerance, etc.

3. Reframe Root-Cause Mindsets

Now that the mindsets have been uncovered, the final step is to reframe them in a way that facilitates change, enables innovation to occur and unlocks performance. While there is a bit of an art to reframing, the intention is to create a perception or understanding that causes people to say – “ We’ve never thought about it like that before, and if we had, we would do things differently ”. In this example, bank personnel believe their job is to help customers fully understand their options rather than just giving them what they ask for – to add value and to showcase more of the bank’s offerings and creating opportunities to cross-sell products.

Now that we’ve identified the behaviors critical to achieving business objectives that uncovered and reframed the underlying mindsets, we can get passed playing “ whac-a-mole ” – and move the organization forward to increase the rewards from innovation and business transformation that meaningfully improve outcomes.

Nov 6, 2019    CAIL Innovation insights extending on KPMG commentary