What drives meaningful behaviour change… mindset or context?

In conversations with our clients, we often get onto the subject of behaviour change, and the desire for people in an organisation to act in a different way. That might be about taking greater ownership or, conversely, empowering others. It might be about having a more strategic view or driving innovation. Whatever the need, the common challenge we observe is in knowing where to start. Should organisations seek to drive change from within – targeting individual mindsets and belief systems – or change from without – targeting processes, practices, or structures?

It isn’t an easy question. We know the organisational system we create is the sum of individuals, but also that those individuals are highly influenced by the organisational system. It’s a veritable Escher’s staircase. Which step comes first?

The case for mindset

The “Be, Do, Have” coaching model – popularised by leading thinkers such as Stephen Covey – suggests that meaningful behaviour change starts with mindsets. Firstly, individuals must think about who they will need to be to reach a specific goal. Then, what they will need to do. And afterwards, what they will have as a result. The situation follows the behaviour which follows the mindset. If the people within organisations don’t challenge their own deeply-rooted thoughts, feelings and beliefs about who they are, then committed action and tangible results won’t be achieved.

The case for context

The team at Corporate Rebels articulate a different view, in which organisational context is the key driver of behaviour. If we change the context, we’ll change behaviour, which will change mindsets. Consider the various ‘nudge’ effects of behavioural science that have shown subtle changes to context will drive radically different outcomes, in areas ranging from energy usage to money saving to healthy eating. My personal aim to get my five-a-day might be more readily achieved by the context change of a tactically-placed fruit bowl than a decision to ‘be’ a person who prioritises health.

Where to start

So which is right? Should we target mindset or should we target context? Well, perhaps unsurprisingly, we think the answer is a bit of both. Target individual mindsets alone and you may find that organisational constraints hold progress back, or that people have the will to change but struggle to find the way. Target context alone and you might find you lack the emotional commitment you need to sustain change, with new processes or practices sitting on the shaky foundations of collective scepticism (or outright hostility).

Ultimately you need to have enough of a mindset shift for people to be open to experimenting with doing things differently. Individuals needn’t be fully embracing of radical reinvention, but they do need to be willing to make some degree of change to their own behaviour. That tactically placed fruit bowl only works if I’m open to the idea of eating more fruit…and willing to rearrange my kitchen.

About Kindred

Kindred helps organisations achieve growth and impact by establishing the structures, practices and behaviours for people to do their best work. We support leaders and teams to raise their games, individually and collectively. 

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