Serious behavioural change? Start with micro-behaviours, then walk backwards to values, never the other way around. And bring peer-to-peer or you are running in first gear.
There is a beautifully pragmatic, heuristic side to the behavioural approach to change, including organizational change, that has always been dismissed and even trivialised by the abundant numbers of advocates of complex cognitive thinking. When it comes to ‘change’ (allow me to quote/unquote to host lots of types of change), the energy always goes to the big why, and the big effort for cognitive understanding as a prerequisite.
The promoters of culture-of-violence-change focus on peoples understanding of how terrible violence is. The workers on dysfunctional-families-change expect to spend time understanding the root and causes, the probably complex psychodynamics of the family and the plausible connection of the situation with a more than stressful and abusive childhood. The consultants on corporate change are not expected to do anything until there is a full assessment of the current culture, a prerequisite to change it.
All of those have a Homo Sapiens pattern of thinking (analysing, understanding) then acting. Thinking first, behaviours will come, they seem to say, which is a laudable, brave, ill conceived sequence.
The miracle (if you aim for one, and those situations require something close to it) require the other homo that we have forgotten, Homo Imitans
Let’s take dysfunctional families. It may be laughable for some to think that the key to change from a dysfunctional to a functional one is to focus all energy on the kids: get up early, brush their teeth, get to school on time, say hello and thanks, lower the voice and make that damned appointment with the dentist. If you manage to install those micro-behaviours, they will stir things backwards once the habit has been created and then, that discipline will contaminate other things. At some point, who knows, we may even have a discussion about ‘understanding’. Micro-behaviours first, that’s my rule.
This may sound a bit like a Super Nanny approach, and indeed from my very superficial knowledge of that TV series, I know that it took some similar behavioural principles and put them into reality in the form of ‘rules of the game’. The key difference in what we propose and do in our work on large scale change is our Part 2: Bring in ‘people like me’ to shape it, not a social worker, not an authority or expert but an ex-dysfunctional family. It is peer-to-peer or you are wasting your time. In Homo Imitans I used a sub-chapter title: ‘youth-to-youth, granny-to-granny’, to emphasise that peer-to-peer power is greater than anything else in social change.
The formula is micro-behaviours plus peer-to-peer. Not macro-ideas/values plus authority intervention.