How Do You Foster Change?

“How do you change the habits of already successful adults?”*

I’ve been struggling with how to help individuals change their habits and try a new approach lately. So when I came across this question, I jotted it down and have not been able to let it go. At first it was the simple challenge of how do you do get adults to change their habits. But it quickly became a more fundamental question. If you cannot encourage individual change, how do you build organization capacity? How do you foster innovation? How do you encourage organizational development?

Individual ability and willingness to change is at the core of organizational change.

  • You can teach people new skills. But, they must be motivated to utilize the skills.
  • You can bring in new ideas. But, colleagues must have an open mind to consider and build the ideas.
  • You can introduce new ways of working. But, colleagues must be willing to try new activities, engagements and structures.

If individuals are not motivated to step out of their personal comfort or interest zone positive change rarely occurs.

So, how can you create space that encourages adults to change their ways?

In her book teaming, Amy Edmondson outlines the concept of a learning frame–an approach to work that aims to accomplish identified goals and simultaneously learn how to do the work better.  (Contrasted to an execution frame, an approach to work that focuses primarily on getting the work done.)

How you frame your efforts influences how others respond and engage. A learning frame encourages collective learning, collaboration, piloting to test new ideas and analysis to learn from the experiments and inform future efforts. It invites people to participate in the effort, values their contributions and cooperation, and encourages learning as a part of the experience. It can nurture their motivation and willingness to engage, learn and ultimately change.

So much of what we do in associations is cyclical–conference/ trade show planning cycle, membership renewal cycle, volunteer engagement campaign cycle. It can be really easy to fall in to a “get it done” attitude or an execution frame.

But, fostering a culture focused on a get it done/execution frame, can lead to an organization culture that views change as a negative experience to be avoided. This can encourage people to hold on to their ways, purposefully tear down new ideas or avoid any change.

If you are taking on a change initiative, would like to foster a culture more comfortable with change or want to enhance the capacity of your organization, consider how you frame your efforts.

  • How do you foster active engagement in work efforts?
  • How do you share goals and vision for efforts?
  • How do you encourage questions?
  • How do you create opportunities for people to share their insights?
  • How do you encourage collaboration?
  • How do you value team member contributions?
  • How do you encourage trying new ideas or steps?
  • How do you acknowledge mistakes and openly discuss what can be learned from them?

How you lead impacts how your team engages at work.

If you have not read Teaming by Amy Edmondson I encourage you to pick up a copy.  It is a great resource for leading teams, change and organizations.

*The question came from a smartly titled post Transforming Culture is Simple: All It Takes Is Changing People by Dr. Larry Senn on


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