There are plenty of people who believe that individuals are not capable of behavioral change. Senior executives say it about an organization’s employees. People who have been unable to change say it about themselves. Regardless of the speaker, it is a cop-out.
There are many reasons why people take the position that change is not possible. The biggest one being that change, improvement, modification, breaking bad habits, and getting better all are really hard. Saying “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” simply is easier.
The head of an organization may be unable or unwilling to face the fact that the organization does not really support the growth of its employees. The organization may talk about developing its employees. It may implement a handful of programs that look good on paper. It may even go through the professional development motions. But, in practice, the organization does not take meaningful steps to effectively foster success. The budget for professional development ranges from practically nonexistent to limited, the training is stale, the mentors are reluctant, and the company culture has no patience for learning opportunities.
It is unlikely that an organization is going to recognize or admit this. It is more palatable to believe that people are wired a certain way, that individuals have fixed strengths and limitations. Employers can take an “it is not me, it is you” position. Instead of taking a long hard honest look at the organization, they can continue to search for the perfect employee – the one who possesses innately that winning combination of desired characteristics, the magic formula.
The thought process for individuals is similar. Falling back on the excuse that change is impossible is less painful than confronting the fact that you are just unwilling or unable to do what it takes to be more successful. Wondering “Is it me?” hurts. So, people go to great lengths to avoid doing it. They tell themselves “this is just how I am”, “my idiosyncrasies make me unique”, and “everyone understands.” Doing so allows folks to move past their shortcomings, to avoid looking at the issue in the eye. It is less uncomfortable to say “that is just how I am” rather than “I had the potential to be better, but I just couldn’t hack it.”
Alternatively, acknowledging that change is possible complicates matters. Once we admit that behavioral change is real then we must ask ourselves whether we are willing to do what it takes to make it happen. You must decide whether you are willing to expend the effort, allocate the financial resources, and dedicate the time to improve.
2012 begins tomorrow. Perhaps it is time to try again. Ask yourself the hard questions. In what ways is your organization supportive of change? How are you fostering an environment that makes people open to exploring new ways of thinking and behaving? What types of support are you providing to improve operational effectiveness? Are you willing to allocate a reasonable amount of time to learn more effective behaviors?
With the New Year comes an opportunity to meet your challenges anew, this time with an open mind, instead of turning your back while muttering “a leopard cannot change its spots.”