Why You Should Emphasize Behavioral Change When Transforming Your Business

5 min

In order for their business to perform successful in the face of competitive challenges and market disruption, business owners and corporate executives regularly strive to re-organize their companies. Here’s why focusing on changing behavioral patterns is the real secret to business transformation.

When companies embark on a business transformation journey, their ambition should not be limited to modernizing their technological set-up or enhancing their corporate structures. This limited focus reduces the chances of achieving a successful and sustainable change of direction. Often, however, transformation initiatives emphasize the technical and structural aspects over corresponding adjustments in behavior, providing for a distorted approach to organizational change.

Transforming a business means changing organizational behavior

Basically, companies undergoing a transformational change are looking to fundamentally improve their way of working in order to improve corporate performance: they aim to collaborate more efficiently, increase their resilience, and deliver better products and services to their customers, faster.

In short, they embark on a comprehensive quest to change their organization’s behavior.

Similar to individual conduct, organizational behavior regularly follows distinct behavioral paradigms that are ingrained in the (corporate) DNA. These habitual patterns are associated with the roles employees assume in the organization and they exert a strong influence on what employees consider to be appropriate courses of action under prevailing company conditions.

Corporate behavior is difficult to change

Neuro-scientific research has shown that habitual paradigms are—in the long-term—the determining driver of sustained behavior. It is effectively proven that patterns and habits are much more powerful than cognitive forces and that they are hard to overcome by sheer will.

On an individual level, for example, it has been shown that the human reservoir of will power is limited. The higher the mental effort required to repeatedly engage in a new, desired behavior, the more difficult it is to overcome one’s weaker self, and the less likely it is that this behavior will be adopted in the long run.

Constant reflection upon whether an activity should be performed (or not) depletes the energy required to execute it. Chances are, then, that it’s not going to stick. That is, of course, unless you ease up on your worrying and seek to establish a more powerful routine—one that does not rely on ceaseless, repeated consideration.

Attitude and motivation may be key, but are they enough?

Even when the benefits of a targeted behavioral change are transparent and there is an individual motivation—or desire—to achieve an improved state, deep-seated habits often run against a successful the successful internalization of new behavioral patterns.

Examples of this bitter truth can be found everywhere.

It is common knowledge, for example, that a healthy diet and frequent cardiovascular exercise are not only beneficial in terms of longevity, but also in terms of immediate physical and mental well-being. Still, 95% of people who perceive their current nutritional habits as poor and suffer from corresponding health issues fail to permanently implement dietary changes. They are simply not able to sustain the change beyond a “short period of motivation.”

Moreover, sweatpants are, more often than not, bought for their comfort and not for their intended purpose. It is just too hard to—again and again—convince ourselves that it’s better to go for a short run (or a walk) instead of spending an additional 30 minutes in front of a screen.

To overcome this hurdle, we have to stop thinking and start acting. In this regard, Nike’s simple slogan provides the ultimate advice: “Just Do It.”

Truth is, as humans we’re creatures of habit. We try to avoid the effort (and pain) associated with change. We pursue the easy, comfortable path over the difficult, laborious course of action.

Or do we?

Changing behavioral patterns is a matter of doing, not wanting

When it comes to intrinsic motivation, most people are willing to go not one but many extra miles simply for the sake of innate drive and inner pleasure. Children are inherently curious and can become fully invested even in strenuous activities without external stimulus or incentive. Adults regularly spend their precious leisure time engaging in social organizations for no other “Return on Investment” than the good feeling of contributing to their community’s benefit.

Thus, we are by no means lazy by nature. Instead, we have an inborn drive for engagement, and a demand for cohesion and belonging that energizes and motivates us without external stimulus. Unfortunately, though, the restrictive influence of perceived authorities and other discouraging experiences sandbag our inner push, leaving us listless.

In essence, human behavior is complex. And as corporate behavior is composed by the sum of the organization’s individual members’ behavior, its complexity is even greater.  Transforming corporate behavior, therefore, requires a comprehensive perspective and approach.

Engage individuals, reframe patterns, enable adoption

So, what needs to be done to effectively transform an organization’s paradigm?

First, any targeted change of corporate behavior indeed needs to start on the individual level. But instead of primarily addressing individual views or characteristics it proves to be more effective to change how a person perceives and appreciates their specific role under the prevalent conditions. By reframing individual perspectives in line with the targeted corporate behavior, you can create the foundation for effective transformation.

It is important that as many employees as possible understand the relevance of the targeted change, and develop a positive attitude, or—ideally—a desire to support the change. Each individual that does not develop a change-positive mindset and motivation is likely to join the resistance and infiltrate the transformation.

Second—and probably most important—the transformation initiative must address cultural aspects and corporate behavioral patterns. Human beings strive for belonging and cohesion, hence they tend to align their individual course of action with leadership and group behavior.

As humans, our most basic social learning principle is imitation. We tend to follow the behavior displayed by our authorities and our peer groups, as we want to be appreciated and accepted as valued group members. Hence it is leadership behavior—much more than just statements or structures—that influence and reinforce the behavioral patterns.

Leadership engagement must extend beyond communicating and enforcing the change in a command-and-control sense. It is essential that executives are fully invested and visibly engaged in the transformation, providing a noticeable example of the desired behavioral patterns.

Third, and not least, the entire workforce—executives and employees—needs to be enabled and engaged to participate in the change. This includes the capability, capacity, and competence required to perform the new behavior.

Whether the primary nature of the transformation is technological or organizational, structural or procedural, every member of the staff needs to be educated about the new way of working and must be given the leeway to learn and adopt the new behavior. Values and rules, too, need to be adjusted to account for the targeted behavioral change and to grant the autonomy that sparks motivation and fuels drive.

All in all, it is essential to understand that business transformation is a matter of changing corporate behavior, and that transforming behavior requires action rather than words.

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