If you want change, you have to structure it.
For decades I’ve known that it’s important to limit my sugar intake.
For years I’ve known that I shouldn’t try to “eat my feelings” when I’m stressed.
There is no need to “raise my awareness” on these issues — I’ve been aware for a long time.
And none of that awareness stopped me from stress eating through the first half of the pandemic.
Raising awareness is not enough.
What did stop me from sugar binging 7 nights a week? I locked our candy in a bag in the basement. Yes, I know where it is. Yes, I know the combination (it’s 313, please don’t tell the kids). To actually change my behavior, I had to do more than just raise my awareness and trust my willpower. I had to create systems that supported behavior change.
The same is true for diversity, equity, and inclusion.
The data are clear, training alone doesn’t work to advance workplace equity.
Don’t get me wrong. That doesn’t mean that there is no value in training. If I were ignorant of the sugar risks I’d be buying M&Ms by the case. I did need my awareness to be raised, and I did need to hear the message repeatedly for it to sink in.
Awareness raising was necessary, but it is not sufficient.
Sadly, when it comes to DEI, many organizations think they can have a training and call it done. They’ve “raised awareness.” They’ve checked the box. Mission accomplished.
Except then nothing changes on the ground.
From raising awareness to structuring behavior change
To give you an example, let’s talk for a moment about psychological safety.
Google launched Project Aristotle to figure out what makes great teams. They learned that psychological safety was a key driver. That is, teams performed better when members “feel confident that no one on the team will embarrass or punish anyone else for admitting a mistake, asking a question, or offering a new idea.”
Lack of diversity, equity, and inclusion is a barrier to psychological safety. If you’re the only person of color, the only woman, the only person with a disability, etc. on the team, you have good reason to question if you are safe “risk taking in the face of being seen as ignorant, incompetent, negative, or disruptive.”
That’s why Amy Edmonson, the Harvard researcher who coined the term psychological safety, draws the connection. “In short, leaders who care about diversity must care about psychological safety, just as those who care about psychological safety must also care about diversity, inclusion, and belonging.”
There are many behaviors that can enhance psychological safety. One is making sure everyone participates in team meetings.
First, on the good teams, members spoke in roughly the same proportion, a phenomenon the researchers referred to as ‘‘equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking.’’ On some teams, everyone spoke during each task; on others, leadership shifted among teammates from assignment to assignment. But in each case, by the end of the day, everyone had spoken roughly the same amount. ‘‘As long as everyone got a chance to talk, the team did well,’’ [Anita] Woolley said. ‘‘But if only one person or a small group spoke all the time, the collective intelligence declined.’’The New York Times Magazine
This is a tool you can bring into your next meeting. Pay attention to who has spoken most, who least, and who not at all. Create opportunities to actively bring all voices in. It’s good for DEI, it’s good for team health, it’s good for your company.
Awareness raised. Now what?
There, now I’ve raised your awareness about psychological safety and its role in DEI. Even more, we’ve given you a behavior intervention that you can use at your next meeting.
And chances are it won’t make a difference in how you run a meeting.
Just introducing a concept to you without creating an intention, plan, and structure to support you acting on it rarely changes behavior. This is why training alone is ineffective. Too often training stops at filling your brain with ideas instead of taking the next steps to structure how to change behavior and act on those ideas.
Here’s how to take that next step.
Creating a structure that supports behavioral change.
You want to go beyond raising awareness about psychological safety to actually changing your behavior? Let’s develop a structure that will get you there.
First, choose when you will practice the conversational turn taking. As long as behavior change lives in the land of the abstract and in the time of “someday,” the status quo will remain. Look at your calendar. Pick a meeting where you can practice conversational turn taking. Make a commitment to start.
This may sound familiar to those of you who are familiar with the habit loop. What we’re doing here is identifying the cue that will trigger the new behavior. The more precise and intentional you can get about that cue, the more effective you will be at changing your behavior.
Find structures that will remind you. This can be as easy as putting a reminder on your calendar just before the meeting starts. If you want to get more involved, ask a coach to remind you, schedule an email to yourself, or ask a friend in the meeting to support you.
Identify the tactics you will use in the meeting. It can take a lot of brainpower to both participate in the meeting and experiment with a new behavior. That’s why it helps to have planned out the specific tactics you will use before the meeting. It’s one less thing to think about in the moment. Some questions to consider:
- How will you track conversational turn taking?
- Will you use tally marks to track who has spoken?
- What scripts will you use to invite people who haven’t shared much in?
- What will you say if someone is talking a lot you want to ask them to make time for others?
There is room to experiment here. You don’t have to have every possible tactic worked out for the first time you try it. But having a few possible tactics at the ready will make it more likely you’ll follow through.
Bring other people in. At the meeting you may want to share the research on psychological safety. Discuss norms to share air time during the meeting. Create group norms that encourage shared participation. Invite other meeting participants to uphold them.
The whole family was involved in the decision to lock up our sweets. Now if I don’t get the candy bag put away right after dessert on Saturday, my daughter reminds me, “Dad, you should probably put that away before you get tempted.” It’s like borrowing willpower!
Ask for feedback. After the meeting, ask someone who was there for feedback on how it went. Here’s a sample script, “Hey there, I’m working on making sure we hear from everyone. What’s one thing I should do next time to make sure everybody gets an equal chance to participate?”
Notice that this request for feedback sets the context for the question and asks for one specific piece of feedback. This helps get out of the “How’d I do?” “Oh, you did fine,” trap that is so common when soliciting feedback.
Celebrate taking the action🎉. We repeat behaviors that get rewarded. Take a moment to celebrate that you took action to increase psychological safety. No, your journey isn’t done, but these warm fuzzies will help support you to take future steps on your journey.
Repeat. Like I said, your journey isn’t done. When is the next time you can practice conversational turn taking? Pick the meeting. Set your reminders. Go through the process of structuring your behavior until it becomes a habit.
One step at a time, but don’t wait to take that step. I’ve just thrown a lot of ideas at you about how you can structure behavior change. You don’t have to do them all. I would rather you pick just one now to try rather than put this off until later when you can go through all the steps.
I recommend you start by picking the meeting you’ll practice at. The other steps will naturally start to come together when you have a date on the calendar. But whatever step you choose, choose it now. You can always come back to the other structures later.
Wait, you tricked us. That process for conversational turn taking wouldn’t work at all for the stress eating, or the other way around!
True, the different behaviors required different structures. You can’t lock the over-talker in a suitcase in the basement. If I set a calendar alarm for myself saying, “don’t scarf the marshmallows,” we both know that’s going to backfire.
But the core point is the same. If you want to change your behavior, raising awareness alone is unlikely to do it. Willpower is unlikely to do it. You have to create intentional structures that support the behavior change.
Sometimes I meet people who are cynical about if change is possible, whether in their lives, their organizations, or in the world. If you’re just relying on “raising awareness” to generate change, then yes, you should be skeptical.
But if you build the right systems, well, I can’t guarantee change, but you make change a lot more likely.
So, now that I’ve raised your awareness about systems to support behavior change, what systems will you put in place?
Schedule a free consultation to learn more about how Change Works Consulting can help you develop change strategies that work for you and your organization.