Why do some changes stick, and others seem as slippery as a greased eel, causing an organization to slide back into old ways?

When we bring change to an organization, it’s easy to get everyone excited on day one… …and much harder to maintain that excitement on day 100, or 1,000! Why do some changes stick, and others seem as slippery as a greased eel, causing an organization to slide back into old ways? (Please note: I’ve never actually tried to catch an eel, I’m just assuming it’s not an easy task.) In the book, “Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die,” the authors outline six principles that make ideas “sticky”—and these principles can be applied to how you approach change in your organization as well.

  1. It must be simple. Don’t give 50 new directives all at once, outline a dozen new programs, or distribute new guidelines that try to anticipate every possible scenario. Have a simple, core directive that can be applied to every decision they have to make. Person-centered care is a good example of this, because in any given situation, any staff member can ask herself, “Is this what’s best for the person?” and come up with an answer on her own.
  1. It must be concrete. Stay away from jargon and buzzwords that don’t mean anything! Everyone must understand the importance of rehospitalizations but truly, how many people have that 7 syllable word in their normal vocabulary? (Clap it out, it’s really 7 syllables!)
  2. The unexpected is memorable. People are more likely to remember those things that go against what they think is “normal”. One home I consulted in would offer everyone that came in the door something to drink and eat, just like you would at your own home, even job applicants! It shocked those applying for a job and staff constantly reflected back on that experience when sharing what a different place it was to work.
  1. Change must be credible. People must believe that it’s going to work and that it’s desirable. Facts and figures can go a long way to ensuring credibility. Can you create progress reports in different areas that show how effective the change is? Even creating something like a job well done board where staff members can post compliments they receive from residents, family members, and other staff can show how the change is working.
  2. The reason for change must be rooted in emotion. To get buy-in from your staff, they must feel an emotional connection to what they’re doing. I have a powerful visualization exercise I facilitate at organizations that are introducing person-centered care to help each and every staff member create an emotional connection to the change that needs to happen. (Let me know if you’d like a copy that you can facilitate with your team!)
  1. Stories reinforce change. Stories are useful at every stage of implementing change. When you first announce plans for change, you can tell stories of how it has worked in other organizations. To keep staff motivated during the change, tell positive stories of how someone has risen to the challenge or how a particular change has benefited individual residents. These stories will continue to drive home the importance of the changes you’re making to the entire staff.

Creating change that sticks and is sustainable over time is never a matter of creating more rules or enforcing policies more strictly, but rather about making sure that you’re conveying the need for change in a way that sticks! Did these suggestions spark any ideas for you? I’d love to hear how you might apply these sticky principles to your organization in the comments below!

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