Behavioural change in organisations… we read, consult, meet, agree, invest, kick off, design and launch. And then we hope… hope that our laboriously crafted plans deliver the intended results. And when we see a glimpse of what we were hoping for, we celebrate our achievement as we blissfully fall into the trap of confirmation bias.
Confirmation bias: the tendency to overrate information which supports what we would like to see and disregard information which goes against it. Can be advantageous for promoting positivity, but may result in chasing ghosts.
The launch of a behavioural change plan doesn’t, in itself, lead to change. You can’t just press “Go” and expect desired results to magically materialise. Change can only be realised through ongoing nurture through personal leadership, with unwavering attention to day-to-day facts. Planning is by all means essential. But hands-on management is even more necessary for success.
Feedforward and feedback control
In my experience, and as a control engineer by study, leading change requires aspects of two different control techniques: feedforward and feedback.
Feedforward control, which focusses on suggesting next actions, assuming your system responds as expected, results in an actionable plan to get from A to B. But in the chaotic and unpredictable environment that’s typical of many organisations, and where confirmation bias may lead you to believe your plan is working when this is actually not the case, feedforward alone is ineffective. You need to have checks and balances. Which means feedback control needs to play the bigger part during execution.
Feedback control, which focusses on reviewing and acting upon the current status, has fallen out of favour in some circles because it forces people to face up to uncomfortable realities. Realities which we may ignore at our peril! It’s all very well adopting a positive future-focussed stance, but ignoring the facts of NOW fosters a dangerous false sense of security.
Changing behaviour in an organisation, and ourselves, has to be grounded in daily observations, feedback and adaptation of how the journey is executed.
Ensuring feedback quality
Successful feedback control requires an adequate ability to assess the current state. So what observable behavioural aspects do you need to look out for and how do you capture this information? The answer lies in upfront consideration and design.
At any moment in the change process, you should be asking what you did or what happened TODAY that moved the needle. To be able to see this, you need to start by defining the resolution by which change will be measured. What is the minimum level of progress you want to see and at what frequency? How will you assess change – do you take a general “look” and rate your feeling of whether things are going better? If so, how much confirmation bias is in this? What are “things”? What is “better”? How much is enough? And when hopes and expectations aren’t met, are you able to react in a timely manner and try different things?
Confronting the uncomfortable is the key to success
Feedforward certainly has its part to play in determining direction. But without daily observations feedback which provides visibility and the means to continually reassess, you can only hope that your planned-for change really happens.
It is an uncomfortable reality for some, but it’s only what you DO today which determines the future. No plans, good intentions or optimistic hope can beat that!
If you want to share thoughts and experiences on this topic, please contact me at Vincent.Gerdes@rnggc.com. I’ll be happy to discuss and learn!