Leaders regularly say that they want to ‘change the mindset’ of their people. But can that really be done? And if you were to persist, what are the implications?
In another element to the transformation algorithm I’m building, I explore the concept of mindset change. The post isn’t as clearly written as I would like, but I’m told that ‘done is better than perfect’. So, if you see opportunities to improve, ask, comment, complement or (constructively) disagree. I'm sure we'll both learn from it!
Science says that everything is meaningless.
I don’t mean that spiritually or philosophically, but literally.
The words we speak. The information we absorb. The photons entering our eyes. None of them have a meaning of their own.
As humans, we only add meaning through interpretation, which we base on the way we view the world. Our upbringing. Our beliefs. The way our brain is wired. Our baggage.
The implications of this are profound.
It means that two people can look at exactly the same information, and attribute completely different meanings. That I can never really understand how you see the world. That even with effort, I will always slightly misinterpret everything you say. That in a debate, we may both be right. Or wrong.
It also means I cannot ‘change’ your mindset.
I know, as a (corporate) transformation guy, I’m supposed to say it can be done. But I’d be lying.
I cannot change your mindset. Decades of life have shaped your worldview. Wanting to fix your brain through some magic interventions is unrealistic, if not arrogant.
The best I can achieve is to offer you a new perspective that builds on what you already believe. And hope that you internalise it. To offer you a thought that expands what you consider possible.
To make this happen in organisations, I need to accept three realities:
1. Every transformation starts with the people, not the management.
Except for the most senior leaders and shareholders, none of us get out of bed to move a KPI. We do it to achieve our own goals. To either confirm to ourselves who we are, or work towards who we want to be. Everything that doesn’t tick those boxes is on our mental B-priority list.
=> Implication: for true transformation, I need to understand the priorities of the people that work for the organisation. Who do they believe they are and who do they want to be(come)? How are they currently achieving this through the jobs they do? Then, look at how the corporate transformation goal can confirm their identity? Or, stronger, help them achieve aspirations? Only then will they really listen.
2. Experiences matter more than words
Every single one of our beliefs is rooted in our personal experience. Good or bad. Right or wrong. Beautiful or ugly. It’s all decided by the feedback we got as we reacted to situations in our past. The grades we got at school. The encouragement given by parents or former bosses. The (lack of) patience of a lover.
=> Implication: To really impact how people look at life, work and ‘the way things are’ (i.e. mindset) I need to provide new experiences that reframe or complement those of the past. So how can I provide these experiences? And then help people step into the uncertainty of a new direction? While words may sound good, (experiencing) actions speaks much louder.
3. It’s the journey, not the goal.
Every plan wants to take a business ‘from point A to point B’. But reality dictates that: (a) I have limited control over people’s mindset and (b) real transformation only happens after processing an experiential impulse (i.e. it takes time).
So the chances of actually hitting ‘point B’ within any preset timeframe are slim.
=> Implication: I need to embrace that the ‘real life’ outcome of my actions will be different that what was on my PowerPoint slides. Take any step towards ‘NOT A’ as a sign that I am having an impact. Once things move, I can always calibrate with new experiences that encourage the next step to be taken. While carefully listening to any barriers to change. After all, my perception may be flawed too.
So are ‘mindset transformations’ futile?
No, thankfully they are quite possible.
Mindsets change all the time, and the right impulses can speed them up. Even create exponential change.
But they are organic, rather than rigidly structured and controlled. So, they move at their own speed. They are messy. Fragile. And they definitely require a very different approach than the corporate default of: ‘Let’s do a workshop, show some PowerPoint presentations and tweak those bonus schemes’.
At best, this traditional approach achieves compliance.
Which, to be clear, is not a bad word. Compliance may be perfectly adequate for the situation.
Human behaviour responds remarkably well to the combination of sticks and carrots. If there is little time, or no need to really (need/want to) care what people really think, it may be the quickest path to results. And by persisting long enough, it may even evolve mindsets. A little.
But think again if you want ‘real’ and ‘deep’ change.
IF you want:
THEN you need to look at 'work as an immersive experience'
In which every space, story and behaviour continuously helps people expand their perception of their role, your business and even your industry. And have this reenforced by your (leadership) actions.
There’s no ‘golden recipe’ for this approach. I’m still putting together the pieces. But the transformation algorithm is coming together. So if you’re willing to co-explore it in your organisation, get in touch.
Many people have influenced my thoughts on a transformation algorithm. For the ideas in this article, I would especially like to thank (in alphabetical order): Beau Lotto, Christy Dena, Jen Rice, Matt Duerden, Miles Overholt and Punchdrunk Enrichment’s team.
Want to talk transformation or compliance over virtual coffee?
Both have validity. It’s just about using the right toolkit for the right aim.
So if you’re curious, reach out for a general chat or a free flow brainstorm about the possibilities for your organisation. It’s a journey, so even if it goes nowhere, this conversation can be a step 😉.
Alain Thys is an experience architect who helps organisations drive profit and transformation through experience.