Managers are good at messaging and communicating. OK, this is a benevolent assessment but let’s assume this. Also, OK at triggering behaviours. We do this all the time. Sustaining? That’s the problem. Nothing seems to last sometimes. Change does not stick, decisions are not followed up, big peaks of excitement after a motivational speech are followed by fading memories of the event. Why are we so bad at that continuity, sustainability?
The answer lies in the differences between the Push and the Pull mechanisms that I have described in Homo Imitans . The Push, fundamentally informational, loses power as it is cascaded down. The, Pull, mainly behavioural, scales up. In behavioural terms, that means some people start doing something, other people follow, and eventually some critical mass appears.
Traditional management has been based upon Push mechanisms: we tell people what to do, what is expected, what the strategy is. We cascade information down the pipes. Somehow we expect that this will be good enough to change behaviours, to do something. But this is very often not the case. We are not trained in mastering the Pull: defining behaviours and scaling them up.
Many prospective clients coming to me complain that they have initiated something (a programme, an initiative), that all the pieces seem to be in place, even that something has started, but that they are stuck and nothing sticks.
The answer is almost never strategic, or informational (‘a communication problem’). It is behavioural. Whilst behaviours scale, communications fade. You need to have a behavioural plan in place to makes things happen and change behaviours, perhaps culture.
Stickiness is the great management problem. The only way many managers know how to tackle the un-stickiness is to repeat the message: another communications programme, another messaging, another event, another initiative, another one off. It is more and more medicine for a problem that does not need it.
There are no magic answers, but the point of bringing this here is one: focus on stickiness, not on one-off communication ‘exercises’ hoping that a refined one of these (inspirational, for example) will be good enough for people to do something.
Before starting anything new, try to have an answer to the question: how can this stick? If you don’t have a good answer, don’t start. The problem with initiatives that do not stick is not in the intrinsic ineffectiveness (that being a serious problem in itself) but in setting progressive precedents that make for any further initiative harder and harder to succeed.
If you don’t know how you will make it stick, don’t initiate it.