Shaping the Riverbanks: A Metaphor for Sustained Change
When it comes to lasting change, willpower is not enough. To increase the chances of making change stick, you must change the whole system. As James Clear puts it in his book Atomic Habits, "If you want better results, then forget about setting goals. Focus on your system instead." If you really want to change your eating habits - remove the problem food groups from the places you would typically eat them – the house, the car, the office. Replenish these storage places with healthier, tasty options like nuts or fruits. If you want to support your colleague in changing his problematic people skills – help him refresh how he manages his people. For example, if he's blending project-related feedback and personal development feedback too often for his direct reports, encourage him to schedule regular 1:1 development time with each of them. Instead of addressing issues with his people as they come up, he can track positive and negative observations throughout the month and focus their 1:1 time on coaching, providing feedback with themes and high-quality examples. His people may be more likely to embrace his commitment to their growth if they are prepared to receive feedback. As an added benefit, other meetings can then focus on achieving the collective goals of the projects. In the context of broader organizational change, reshaping the riverbanks can take the shape (pun intended) of reflecting on how leaders are chosen, taught to lead, and rewarded. What is the way of leading that is special to your company? How can you make this type of leadership consistent throughout your organization? How does communication really happen? Is your theory (traditionally newsletters, emails, town halls) different from reality (likely a dynamic network of information sharing and sense-making)? How do you recruit, hire, onboard, and set people up for success? How do you off-board people with dignity, grace, pride, joy, and gratitude? What signals do people pick up from what they experience and see happening to others? These questions point to the processes that shape how your organization's water flows. Otherwise, once your investment of resources, attention, and effort move elsewhere, the culture will revert to the path of least resistance: the preexisting status quo. If your organization requires a change, these are the riverbanks you must shift.