What Changes Will Stick?

I recently had the opportunity to lead a Change Management discussion with a local graduate school class.  During the Question and Answer portion, the discussion naturally turned to the changes that we are experiencing during the COVID-19 timeframe. The one question that stood out to me was the following:

  • What changes that we are experiencing due to COVID-19 will stick with us long-term?

That’s a complex question. We observe behavioral patterns in the natural world that developed from necessity. Some patterns still provide benefit, others are followed from habit. For example, birds migrate yearly to find more favorable climates where food is more plentiful and they can produce offspring. While climate change is impacting the individual locations they may use, the overall behavior is still necessary. In contrast, many of us have noticed our dogs turning around several times before they lie down. This behavior – often attributed to creating security, chasing away vermin, or flattening the grass to create a nest – is not necessary for house pets who live in a controlled environment.

Human beings also create patterns in our world, and COVID-19 is forcing new patterns and behavior. The field of Change Management has a lot to say about how to support enduring human behaviors:

  • Sponsorship of change is an important aspect of creating enduring change
    Ask: who will lead and support COVID-19 related changes?
  • Reinforcement of change is critical
    Ask: who will verify and reward our new behaviors?
  • Association of behavior with positive results is necessary for people to sustain new behavior
    Ask: how will we know that the changes we make are having a positive impact?

If we can answer these three questions related to the changes we’ve enacted under COVID-19, that’s where we will experience long-term change.