At the PM Forum’s “Being more strategic” course last week we covered a lot of ground. During the day we explored techniques for: thinking strategically, strategic processes, developing business strategy and strategic marketing. The feedback (see below) was fantastic. When I asked delegates on what topic they would most appreciate a blog, the subject of “creating behaviour change” topped the list. So here we go.

Creating behaviour change is a big topic. So I have done my best to extract a few key ideas that are most likely to have some value to those in partnerships. 

Prompting organisational or individual change?

The starting point has to be whether we are looking to create organisational or individual change. In most cases the answer, no doubt, will be both. But the theories, models and tools tend to come in either an organisational (change management) or individual (psychology) tool box. 

What type of change? 

Are you hoping to create incremental change or fundamental change?

If it is the former then participation and persuasion are your tools. If it is the latter then there is a need for visionary leadership (whether charismatic, persuasive or coercive) or perhaps even a dictatorial style.

The link between feelings, thoughts and actions

Attitudes drive behaviour. So to change behaviour you need to understand and have the ability to change attitudes. This is a long term process! An attitude is “certain regularities of an individual’s feelings, thoughts and predispositions to act toward some aspect of his or her environment”.

Feelings represent the affective component of attitude, thoughts represent the cognitive components and predispositions are the behavioural component. So you must be prepared to change hearts, heads and hands.

Personality reflects predispositions across a range of situations and therefore may provide insights into how best to prompt individual change. Changing behaviour then requires an appreciation of how different personalities cope with change.

Are they ready for change?

There are various models to help you determine whether people are ready for change. If you attempt to push change too quickly you will meet resistance. So a simple model (and each stage has different strategies) is as follows:

  • Pre-contemplation – unaware of the need for change
  • Contemplation – thinking about changing but not yet acted
  • Preparation – Making first steps towards a change
  • Action – Taking regular action to change
  • Maintenance – Getting results and feeling good about the change
  • Relapse – Most people take about six attempts before they achieve long term change

Why should they change?

I have written before about motivation (see, for example,

The role of HR (Human Resources) in aligning the reward systems (financial, progression and recognition) with the strategic aims of the firm – and the desired behaviour changes – should not be overlooked.

The change cycle

Anyone who has attempted to change knows that it is rarely a smooth journey. Motivation and energy levels rise and fall at each stage – from the initial shock, through denial and then into a phase of perhaps anger, blame, resentment and even conflict.

Sometimes there is then a period of depression, self-blame, lack of confidence and poor performance before acceptance starts and old behaviours are let go. Energy levels and positivism then rise as you experience and try to do things differently, receive positive feedback, learn and see results.

The way you support people depends on what stage they are of the change cycle. There’s no “one size fits all”.

How do people learn new behaviours?

Learning theory suggests that the way people learn differs. People can be activists (learning through experience), reflectors, theorists or pragmatists. When promoting a new behaviour you may have to create different situations so that each of these preferences can be accommodated.

You should also recognise that with any change there is risk. Risk of failure and risk of ridicule. Working to minimise these risks, by providing a safe environment, can contribute to the effectiveness of change programmes.

Planning behaviour change

There are numerous posts about change management. See, for example,  And there are many models to guide you. I like the simplicity of this one:

  1. Analyse organisation’s strategy and ability to change
  2. Tailor a programme to reflect cultural issues
  3. Plan the change
  4. Develop a communications plan
  5. Pick the right team (including the right champion and sponsors)
  6. Get executive commitment
  7. Consult as needed

Making sustainable change

Once you have achieved behaviour change, you need to sustain it. In organisational development, you need the Holy Trinity of strategy, culture and leadership to work together for this.

You must be prepared that it will take time to achieve commitment and embed change to become “business as usual”.


Feedback from the day was very positive. Comments included:

  • “Very useful. Well delivered”
  • “It was very fast, but really informative”
  • “Plenty of practical tools, thanks”
  • “Good overview of all topics”
  • “Thought it was a good mix of theory and practical application – bringing it back to our own situations. Really enjoyed it – thank you!”
  • “Kim is an excellent tutor! It was just the right amount of lecture vs. interaction”
  • “Excellent course – very informative”
  • “Great day and thoroughly worthwhile – thank you””

Remember to also check out the blogs on “buy-in”, managing change and persuasion.