Making the Change Stick

Last post we talked about different faces and strategies to making change. So I thought that this week we would follow up with some specific considerations about making change stick. We’ll stick with the same four faces we were looking at last week: the organisation, the individual, the paperwork and the physical side of things.


It takes TIME for change to happen and become embedded in normal operations. One theory is that it takes 8 weeks for any behavioural change to become a habit – diet change, lifestyle change and certainly work behaviours. Where the change is about how you undertake a specific task, repetition is the key. The more you do it, the more it becomes a habit and the more likely it is to stick.

Originally posted to Flickr as 'Eternal Clock' by Robbert van der Steeg (25 March 2009)
Originally posted to Flickr as ‘Eternal Clock’ by Robbert van der Steeg (25 March 2009)

Where the change is about the principles that underpin how a multitude of tasks are carried out, it is so much harder. Sure – there may be plenty of opportunities to keep applying and repeating these new behaviours, but it takes a great conscious effort for people to keeping going back to these first principles and thinking through how they are applied in each task. If people are busy they are unlikely to have or take the time to do this thinking. (This is partly why I make such a big deal about processes being the ultimate form of implementation – until you have taken principles and determined how they will be embedded in a specific activity, those principles are less likely to be lived. But this is not the subject of today’s post.) Therefore 8 weeks will not be enough for broad-scale cultural change – unless the principles are tightly built into documented processes that people closely follow.


For an organisation – where we are talking about more than one person, more than one person’s activities and conversations involving more than one person – this timeframe needs to be expanded again. Once you start talking about more than one person, you cannot document all the interactions within the organisation that help underpin all the organisation’s activities and culture. While it might be expected that simple process changes might be able to be adhered to pretty quickly after they have been agreed, if there are significant shifts in how things are done then how people talk about the new methods in meetings, in the kitchen, in their conversations with customers cannot be controlled. It takes plenty of time for the benefits of the change to be realised, for affected people to realise the benefits, and for people to change their approach or attitude toward the new method.

When we talk about these affected people, you can also include the responsible persons for the change – the managers or Executive. These are the people who often have the say over whether the change is continued with or ditched. They are also the people who can influence how the change is perceived by other affected people. If they – the leaders – do not live the change, then it undermines the change process entirely and gives more justification to the reluctance of others to embrace change. Unfortunately these leaders may need to go through the same process of becoming comfortable with the change as those further down the ranks, which blows out the timeframes for long-term adoption of the change even further.


In my opinion, for people to adhere to documented ways of doing things and then own and maintain this documentation, it really comes down to how appropriate this documentaton is. That means:

1. Is it useful – does it add value to people doing this jobs?

2. Is it easily accessible (not stored on the top corner of the compactus in the boss’ room or in the murky depths of a badly organized network folder system) and readable (not written in old-style legalese)?

3. Is it well structured so that it is easy to navigate to the part of the paperwork / document that is relevant to you and the other different audiences around the workplace?

4. My personal favourite – is it easily maintained and adapted to ensure that people retain ownership for it and can incorporate their learnings into standard operations?

5. But finally – often overlooked because it seems all too hard for all sorts of political, personal and comprehension issues – is it endorsed by someone at an appropriate level of authority who will then actually commit to following it through in the long-term and making sure people stick to it? This commitment by those at the top to ensuring documentation and standardization of the way things are done really is the only way to realise all the benefits of this approach.

Obviously the more useful the paperwork is to people generally, the less hard this commitment is for a leader to make. But there will often be someone at an operational level who, for whatever reason, shirks responsibility, accountability or actual work. By ensuring that there is a clear expectation to all staff that they stick to what has been documented and agreed to means that everyone is pulling their weight and doing their job. And if they aren’t – well if most people generally follow the agreed way of doing things, it will make it pretty transparent who those who are not!

Physical stuff

If the change has stuck through the other faces of change, then this is the easy bit. If you have changed infrastructure around, well that has happened – it is hard to go back. And if people are living the new behaviours, then what is physically done will be in accordance with the change.

What do you think?

I’m not going to guide your feedback on this one! If you have any thoughts, ideas, critiques or anything at all constructive to say, please add a comment here!

What do you think?