Change Management – How we unknowingly sabotage our chances of success

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, but rather that which is most adaptable to change” – Charles Darwin

Successful  organisation change happens when individuals change their habits. And it doesn’t matter whether that organisation is a business, family, team or an informal organisation of friends. Habits are those actions that we repeat and unconsciously engage in to the extent that they exhibit our thoughts and beliefs. They define who we are and our levels of acceptance or resistance to changing the status quo, adapting to situations, increasing our flexibility and versatility and becoming successful.

In his excellent best seller book “The Power of Habit: Why we do what we do in Life and Business”, Charles Duhigg describes the 3 characteristics of habits which form what he calls the habit loop:

  • Cue – the trigger for the habit
  • Routine – the repetition of the activity i.e. the habit
  • Reward – the satisfaction that we get from doing the habitual activity and effectively, the reason why we embark on the habit in the first place.

Duhigg argued that in order to implement a lasting change in our lives or businesses, we need to identify and change our habitual keystone routines (i.e. the master habits which act as catalysts for other habits) which in turn requires a specific focus on what triggers those habits in the first place (i.e. the Cues) and most especially, the reward that we derive or perceive from perpetuating the habits.

Easier said than done.

The reality is that whereas most of us will privately admit our bad habits to ourselves, very few of us will have the time to invest in the hard work to determine what triggers these and even fewer will be able to understand why we engage in this habit, (i.e. the reward we get from it ) and how we can substitute this reward with a more productive reward which will align with our change objectives. But this work is important to implement a lasting change…and we cannot rely on our friends and family to help us.


Because, when well-meaning friends, family members, colleagues and supporters conspire to “support” us by inadvertedly reinforcing the destructive or misplaced rewards that we get from bad or unproductive habits, they unconsciously sabotage our abilities to successfully embrace, lead and manage change. Some examples of well meaning “saboteurs” include:

  • The boss or line manager who condones repeated poor behaviours of a talented star performer because he always delivers the bottom line results.
  • The organisation which looks the other way when its member embarks on unethical activities to successfully aid them in achieving their goals and competitive advantage.
  • The advertising sponsor which deliberately stays silent on the antics of their heavily promoted client and prays that it will all blow over soon.

If the above 3 examples remind you of a high profile World Cup 2014 and English Premier League footballer with an unfortunate habit of biting his opponents (i.e. the Routine) when he becomes stressed and frustrated at their successful efforts in curtailing his performance (i.e. the Cue), with the aim of causing them pain and disorienting them (i.e. the Reward), then so be it.

Whereas the World Cup incident may be a dramatic representation of a particularly nasty habit that needs changing, the fact remains that when it comes to transitions from a current state to a new state, individuals develop a remarkable ability to resist the introduction of change through a reinforcement of many personal habits. These include the habit of:

  1. Complacency – e.g. burying their heads in the sand and pretending that they are ok and in support of the change vision when in actual fact they execute a series of covert actions and inactions which demonstrate otherwise
  2. Perfecting the “But” line – e.g. “But” it has been done before; “But” it will never work; “But” we don’t have the time to implement this now; “But” we will have to retrain everyone; “But” the Unions will never allow it etc. etc.
  3. Transferring blame to people and things outside of their circle of influence such as that:
    • They are a woman in a male dominated profession
    • They are a man in a female dominated profession
    • They are young, old, black, white, tall, short; skinny, fat, over qualified, under qualified; too beautiful, too plain; etc, etc, etc

Changing the habit loop of “Cue, Routine and Reward” is important to implementing lasting change and requires the right skills to facilitate this. An investment in Change Coaching resources is an excellent way to support individuals to change their habits and unlock their potential to embrace and manage change fearlessly and confidently both in their lives and in their businesses. Unfortunately, the use of Change Coaches in managing change is sporadic, primarily because the link between individual habits and successful change management is currently under stated. The “But” habit is a perfect example. This aggressive habit merely serves to argue for our limitations and when we argue for our limitations we get to keep it, ergo we get to resist change and success….always.

Training always accompanies the introduction of something new. Coaching individuals through change is an excellent strategy to address the “But” habit in individuals and replacing it with a more productive, powerful and empowering “Yes…And” habit which leads to success.


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