Why Environment Is Key to Organizational and Individual Change

Despite “myths” to the contrary, studies show that about 50% of all Meth addicts remain clean after leaving prison when being incarcerated for the habit (some rumors report only 5% remain clean).  Of interest is the fact that addicts, while serving prison sentences, often go drug-free for months- even years.  Yet, when they return to their lives on the outside of prison confines, as many as half of them return- some of them immediately- to these deadly addictions.
Why is this the case? It is typically not because of a clear physical need at that point (remember, some of them had been clean for months or years).  The answers lie within psychology texts, rather than medical roots.  The cause is often found in the environment.
Addicts often return to situations where drug use is encouraged.  Even when this is not the case, the environment to which they  return often does not enable or support the change. The sad statistics above are evidence of why the Environment is so critical in change.
Change efforts have a high degree of failure.  As we’ve discussed in our recent series of blogs centered on change, there are certain elements that must be present in every change effort in order to ensure it will succeed.  We refer to these elements as the DRIVE framework.  DRIVE is an acronym for Dissonance (D), Reach (R), Immediate Steps (I), Validation (V), and Environment (E).

Previous Posts on DRIVE:
DRIVE: Why Your Change Effort is Likely to Fail, and What You Can do About It
When Faced with Dissonance, Are You a Changer or an Ego-Protector?
Think Small When Tackling a Large Change Effort
Validation- Is the Change Worth the Effort?

When we use the term “Environment,” we are referring to one’s surroundings, or conditions in which we operate.  In an individual setting, this may be a home or other personal space (if a bag of chips and a bowl of salsa are always on the counter at home, I may as well give up my diet before it starts!).  In an organization, the environment may be, among other things, the workplace setting itself (my cubicle, my laptop…), external factors (the economy, for example), or perhaps the systems (processes, organization structure, technical systems, etc.) with which we work.
The environment refers to those elements that surround us, with each factor either supporting the change or detracting from it.  Consider one of our recent clients; an organization that determined it was moving towards a more customer-centric culture.  They knew that they had to change or they would continue to lose market share (they felt Dissonance– the “D” in DRIVE).  They clearly outlined the goal to move to a more focused customer effort (they outlined what the Reach looked like—the “R”), and outlined the short-term action plan in getting there (the Immediate Steps– “I”).
This organization found great success in measuring their progress.  They realized that it if they wanted to increase customer focus, they would need to measure both the level of customer satisfaction AND the level of employee engagement (engaged employees mean satisfied customers). They embarked on a process to measure each through Employee Engagement and Customer Satisfaction surveys.  They also established a series of other metrics beyond these in order to gauge their progress.  They reaffirmed that they were measuring what was important to their success.  They had nailed the Validation (the “V” in DRIVE) piece of the equation.
But the change didn’t happen.  Why?
They failed to pay attention to a critical component—the Environment.  Although the desired goal was clear, and the plan was in place, the technology infrastructure did not allow them to succeed with the change.  Time and time again, trained and motivated employees faced the frustration of an IT system that would not allow them to deliver the level of customer support needed.  This organization got most of it right, but failed to recognize that the environment (in this case, the technology infrastructure) would not support the change they were trying to create.
Now, the good news.  While some individuals and organizations fail miserably in creating the environment for change, many succeed.  In fact, they find understanding the needs within the environment— and addressing these— can be simple to assess through asking one question:
What do I/we need to do in order to create the  environment that will best ensure this change takes place?
A good friend, an avid runner, once told me he hated to run.  This came as a complete surprise, as he runs daily.  His secret, I learned, was in creating the environment in which he was more likely to win than lose.  His trick was simple.  He would place his running clothes at the feet of his bed before retiring each evening.  In doing so, he had eliminated the step of finding clothing each morning.  He had placed a visual reminder in front of him, which was clearly seen when the alarm went off.  Perhaps most importantly, in neatly placing his clothes by his bed the night before, he had already made the decision to run.  He did not have to decide when he was tired at 5:00 am the next morning—it had already been decided for him.  He had created an environment that, for him, would maintain a positive habit he had built over years of work.
Even the best of change plans will fail if the environment does not support it.  However, creating the environment for organizational or individual change can also make up for a lot of mistakes made elsewhere in the change process.

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