At Arbinger, we talk a lot about mindset change. By shifting from a self-focused inward mindset to an others-inclusive, results-focused outward mindset, individuals and organizations can achieve breakthrough performance. They discover new possibilities and solutions for old problems because they are looking at those problems through new lenses.
But just changing mindset is not enough to create remarkably different results over time.
It’s a lot, certainly. Foundational. A necessary condition. But not sufficient.
For lasting breakthrough results, we need to do things differently in a sustainable way.
The two key words in that sentence? Do and sustainable.
Let’s look at those words in more detail.
Mindset drives behavior, which drives results. If we want different results, we must first change our mindset. But then we have to change our behavior.
Luckily, shifting our mindset naturally invites different behaviors. With an outward mindset, doing things differently becomes easier. It’s more natural to help others when we’re attuned to their needs, challenges, and objectives.
Still, we have to act. Sometimes it’s obvious what we need to do; other times, it’s harder to identify the best path.
Here’s a way to identify what to do differently.
Start by thinking about the people you interact with most closely. Then ask yourself these questions:
- What are they trying to accomplish?
- What are the headaches and challenges they tend to encounter?
- What can you stop doing that would be helpful to them?
- What can you start doing that would be helpful to them?
- What can you adjust or tweak that would be helpful to them?
Select the one or two changes you think would be most helpful. Then go talk to the person. Tell them your ideas and ask if they’d like you to make those changes. (If they say no, go back to the five questions and come up with a few more ideas. Then ask again!)
Individuals and organizations encounter different challenges to sustaining change.
As individuals, one of the biggest factors in sustaining change is our ability to be gentle with ourselves. It’s inevitable that we will slip into our old ways of thinking and acting, particularly when under stress.
When we slip, it’s critical not to think, “Well, I must be a hopeless case. This must just be the way I am. I might as well stop trying to change.”
Instead, we can think of our fallback as part of a learning journey. We can try to identify:
- What was I thinking and feeling in the moments just before I reverted to my old habits? Understanding our physical and emotional state in these situations can help build awareness of our “red flags.” This awareness can help us better respond to such circumstances in the future.
- Why did I want to change in the first place? What inspired or drove me to want to change? Reminding ourselves of our original intent—why we think changing is the right thing to do—can help us place our fallback into perspective.
With these thoughts in mind, and knowing this isn’t the last time we’ll slip, we can recommit ourselves to our new mindset and behaviors. We can move forward on our journey. (Read more: Mindset is a Practice, not a Destination.)
Let’s assume an organization is implementing a culture transformation effort. Individuals across the organization—particularly key leaders—are starting to think and behave differently. People are committed to working better together; they’re excited about the results they now think possible.
How does an organization sustain this change?
There are two critical elements to focus on.
Leaders set the tone for an organization. People watch and copy them. They’ve been successful in the organization, so what they do must be the recipe for success.
That’s why it is so important for leaders—especially senior leaders and those in charge of the transformation effort—to role model. If the goal is to create an outward-mindset culture, leaders must go first. They must be the first to start seeing people as people, adjusting their own behavior to be more helpful, and holding themselves accountable for that helpfulness. Over time, as people observe them being different, they will feel more comfortable adopting the new ways as well.
Organizations often set in place policies, processes, or systems that invite precisely the mindsets and behaviors they do not want. One common example involves performance evaluations and bonus systems. Many organizations would like better teamwork and more collaboration among team members. But things like annual reviews, promotions, and bonuses are decided at the individual rather than the team level. This assessment structure invites individuals to compete against their teammates—precisely what the organization is trying to avoid.
To sustain change, therefore, organizations can review their systems and policies with this lens: Does this system/process/policy support the change we are trying to create?
Consider also how systems work together to invite and reward certain behaviors.
If the systems create incentives in the wrong directions, then ask: How can we change this system (or these systems) to invite outward mindsets and behaviors?
In organizations, mindset change and systems changes work hand-in-hand to dramatically improve performance and results. Systems change alone often creates unnecessary bureaucracy; mindset change alone can transform individuals but rarely organizations.
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