This is a question that I have been asked many times by people. You most likely have a strong opinion on this question as well. Can people really change? Especially if they are more experienced (older) and more stuck in their ways.
As a leader for well over twenty years now, a full-time corporate trainer and speaker the last five years. I have come across lots of people in a variety of different environments. I have also studied human behaviors for the last ten years or so. When I say study, I mean not only through observation, I have been doing that for my entire life. I mean studying the research that has been conducted and collected by some of the experts in the field of human behavior since the beginning of time.
One of the best books I have read on the study of human behavior, and specifically on the question of whether or not humans can Change, is a book titled Change or Die, The Three Keys to Change at work and in Life.
In the book, the authors look at research conducted by doctors on people who were diagnosed with severe heart issues. Some of the participants in the study even have had open heart surgery to other heart related surgeries. The question was simple. When faced with death, would the patients change their behaviors to prevent future heart related issues.
What do you think they found? Did people change their behaviors?
The study concluded that after one year after the diagnosis, or the surgery, that well over 50% of the patients had stopped taking the medication they were supposed to be taking. At after two years, well over 90% were back to the same behaviors and lifestyles they had before the surgery or diagnosis.
This example says a lot about change doesn’t it? It says that even when faced with death, change is very hard. Luckily most of us are not in position at this moment that we have to make a life or death decision, and our willingness to change determines what the outcome will be.
However, many people are in situations where making some changes could greatly impact their career and success. The question is, are they willing to make the changes necessary. As the book would tell you, most people aren’t. But the book, also shares many stories on where people did make changes and how they did it. And in my business, I see the same thing.
From my observations through meeting thousands of people in my training seminars and courses, I have watched people significantly change to get better outcomes in their life and their business. But there are some conditions and questions that must be answered for those changes to occur in those people.
First, the person must have a need to make a change. As my mentor said, we make changes for two reasons. We are either inspired or desperate. Obviously, both situations lead to change. I just prefer to make the changes before I am desperate to have to make the change.
For example: Lets says I am an employee at a company. I have been there for five years. I know my business pretty well. So well, that I don’t listen to feedback very well. Matter of fact, I dismiss most suggestions people make. In addition to being dismissive I am kind of known as a jerk that nobody likes to work around.
This person could become inspired to make changes, because they realize the impact they are having on the coworkers around them. Or they could be sat down by their manager and told how they are perceived, and if they don’t change it they will no longer work there anymore.
In either case, a need has been identified, but the better path is to become aware of the change yourself and start to make shift.
My experience tells me that people who do make changes see the need.
The second piece to change is the want. Do they want to make the change. Again, it comes down to motivation. How motivated are you to want to make the change. If you are about to lose your job, you may be highly motivated, however, are you sold on the concept? You could fake it for a while, but eventually it will come out on whether or not you really want to change.
In my observations, the people who really see the need and then really want to change are the ones who can make the changes. And I know it isn’t that simple. The environment has to be right, and then the right support has to be there as well, but when the need and the want are strong by the individual, change will occur.
The third piece to making a change is a question the person will ask themselves. Can I change? The simple answer is, Yes, they can change. But it is the follow-up question that is more important. Will I change? We can all change, it is just whether or not will we change. These two questions, have to be asked and answered with a yes.
To answer the question I posed at the beginning. Can people change? Yes, I whole heartedly believe people can change. They must answer the four questions above though.
Do they see a need to change, however the need is presented to them. Either they see the need or someone shows the need to them. Do they want to change? And then lastly, do they think they can, and will they do whatever it takes to make the changes. When these four questions are answered, and how they are answered, you will know whether or not someone will make a change.
Once these four questions are answered, and answered correctly, the person is willing to do whatever it takes to make whatever the change is. Then they must get in to the right system or program to make the changes. This is where it can get complicated. What is the best system. I’ll keep it generic on my suggestions as far as what the right system is. I will just tell you what I believe the system must include.
First the system, must have a singular focus. It must be focused on whatever the change the person is trying to make is.
Secondly, it must have daily accountability of some kind, that requires the person who is making the change to have to be accountable to.
Thirdly, they must receive some kind of coaching along the way.
Lastly, it must be at least a year-long process with accountability and follow-up. This is by far one of the most critical things. The bottom line is change is hard, we know this. People would rather die than change, as the book validates. And this kind of change doesn’t happen over night, it takes at least a year to make sustainable changes to a behavior that we have had for a long time.
I have watched people in my training courses make significant changes in their behaviors over the years. Whether it is a leader that changes the way they interact with their employees and peers. Or the sales person that has to change their work behaviors to make more sales.
These people were able to make these changes, because they not only answered the four questions. They had a need, they wanted to make the change, and the sad they Can and they said that they will. But they also found the right system, with a singular focus, with daily accountability and coaching, and they were committed to at least a certain period of time to work in the system to make the changes. They haven’t always been year-long processes, but they were lengthy periods of time.
Here is the question for you. Can you change? Are you willing to make a change?
I know the answer to the question. People can change. Will you?
To your success and your future.