To Succeed in Change and Transformation, Uncover Why People Behave the Way They Do
Updated: Dec 13, 2022
Designing a change strategy is not difficult. However, more often than not, our assumption about the problem to solve is wrong. This is what happens when we engage in change and transformation without really understanding why people behave the way they do. Indeed, discovering what influences behaviors is trickier than it seems.
To better understand the challenge, let’s start with an example.
In a company's agile transformation, we noticed that the business analysts’ behaviors were at odd with agility. They tried to understand and document everything up-front before allowing the initiatives to proceed, instead of setting the business foundation and enabling the discovery of more details as the initiatives progressed.
One of my colleagues in the transformation team was quick to conclude that “they really don’t understand agility!”
One of my colleagues in the transformation team was quick to conclude that “they really don’t understand agility!” I suggested to hold our judgement and interview a few business analysts first.
As the interview unfolded, we discovered that the business analysts were quite familiar with agile. They even suggested spontaneously that only a small part of the business analysis should be performed at the beginning of the initiatives.
My somewhat impulsive colleague couldn’t control herself and blurted “but then why do all the analysis up front? It makes no sense!”
This is how we uncovered the causes of this not-so-agile behavior.
It appeared that the project management process required a detailed business analysis – complete with all 27 sections – to pass the first gate. An incomplete business analysis could land the business analyst in front of the compliance committee, which would delay the project and reflect poorly on his performance.
As we poked deeper, the interviewee also expressed his fears that more conservative business analysts and managers would think that he was cutting corners, causing further trouble with his colleagues.
The causes of observable behaviors are seldom the ones that first come to mind.
As this story shows, the causes of observable behaviors are seldom the ones that first come to mind. And this is particularly true in larger organizations where an individual’s behaviors are influenced by a host of unseen factors.
The Six Sources of Influence model is a great tool to discover the root causes of behaviors, and it proved effective in complex and dynamic organizations.
The model explores six sources of influence on behavior, categorized between motivation and ability, and whether the source is personal, social (team and close coworkers), or structural (the rest of the organization and beyond). Playing across these dimensions provides a holistic view of the causes of behaviors.
Going back to our example, the project management process would be a negative structure ability influence, whereas the conservative bias among senior business analysis would be a negative social motivation influence.
If we had gone with my quick-tempered colleague’s original assessment that “they don’t understand agile,” which is a negative personal ability influence, we would probably have offered training to the business analysts, which would have had limited effect since lack of agile skills was not a primary cause for the problematic behavior.
The model is quite versatile. You can use it with interviews, brainstorming or even surveys, among others.
The model helps formulate questions to address the six different sources of behaviors.
In interviews, as in the example above, the model helps formulate questions to address the six different sources of behaviors. We could have asked “what do you know about agility?” to understand the personal ability, and “if you did the business analysis progressively as you suggested, how would your colleagues react?” to explore social influences.
Similarly, the model can be used to identify why something goes well, to reinforce and expand behaviors we’re trying to encourage.
Moreover, the Six Sources of Influence model is not limited to managing large-scale change and transformation, nor does it require in-depth expertise in change or transformation management. As a manager, team leader, or anyone with influence, the model will prove useful as you seek to change behaviors in your own area.
Likewise, it is a handy reflective tool to gain awareness on your own behavior. You might be surprised to realize how much of your “free-will” actions are conditioned by hidden forces.