Tony Schwartz on Change, Habits, and Will at HBR

Six Keys to Changing Almost Anything - Tony Schwartz - Harvard Business Review

This morning's post from Tony Schwartz has great fodder for discussion. Of most interest to us is number 4:

It's also easy to go to the other extreme, and take on too little. So you launch a 10-minute walk at lunchtime three days a week and stay at it. The problem is that you don't feel any better for it after several weeks, and your motivation fades.

The only way to truly grow is to challenge your current comfort zone. The trick is finding a middle ground — pushing yourself hard enough that you get some real gain, but not too much that you find yourself unwilling to stay at it.

We see all too often organizations tepid on making the ultimate commitment to change play in the extremes. Going too far and thrusting teams into change beyond their readiness can signal both poor planning, and a back-pocket attempt to ensure change efforts fail at the will of the status quo. Not going far enough can signal a team that isn't ready to make big change, and most likely doesn't fully understand the goal of change initiatives.

Schwartz calls this the danger of "Competing Commitments." From number 5:

Here's a very simple way to surface your competing commitment. Think about a change you really want to make. Now ask yourself what you're currently doing or not doing to undermine that primary commitment. If you are trying to get more focused on important priorities, for example, your competing commitment might be the desire to be highly responsive and available to those emailing you.

For any change effort you launch, it's key to surface your competing commitment and then ask yourself "How can I design this practice so I get the desired benefits but also minimize the costs I fear it will prompt?"

By our experience, he's vastly underplaying the point. The biggest danger that lies in uncovering competing commitments is the subconscious unwillingness to veer off the path of the status quo. Integrating teams across functions, units, service centers, and so on, counts on our collective ability to show benefits powerful enough to lead those with deeply entrenched habits that may fly in the face of our objective. It takes great leadership and skill to navigate those waters; Schwartz's is a great piece to continue our thinking here.