Archives For Change

Change before you have to
One of the key ideas we deal with in the Masters of Digital Learning and Leading program at Lamar University is change and how to use technology as a catalyst to bring about change in the learning environment. Reluctance to change is one of the most difficult challenges that most of us who promote the use of educational technology have to wrestle with. Ideally we would all like to work with only highly motivated colleagues and students but this is not the world we live in.

In response to a student request to share links to useful articles dealing with reluctance to change I did a quick search on my blog to find a couple really good articles or posts to share and I was surprised to notice that I have over 226 posts that are tagged with the word ”change” and dozens more posts that simply include the word change. I have several hundred notes in Evernote about change, dozens of links to articles on change in my Zotero reference database and I and hundreds more links related to change, reform, and innovation related to technology in education in my Diigo bookmarking tool. Can’t forget to mention the dozens of books about change I have in my hardcopy and digital libraries. This includes at least 6 books by John Kotter the Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership, Emeritus, at Harvard Business School, who is widely regarded as the world’s foremost authority on leadership and change.

Out of all this how to do I find the just a couple of articles, posts or links that will be most useful. I started to review some my favourite academic articles and posts and after a few hours I was reminded by my wife’s caution

when people ask you for a recommendation they aren’t asking for a literature review and they more than likely don’t want to read all the books and articles that you have read…they are just looking for an answer to a problem.

So what is the problem that my student wants to address?

How do you deal with people who are reluctant to change?

The posts listed below are what I like to refer to as intellectual mash-ups because I take an assortment of ideas and combine them together to address the problem. Each post has many embedded links to the original sources so I am confident that the perspectives presented are supported by sound original insights.

The Head Won’t Go Where the Heart Hasn’t Been
This post points to the fact that while we like to believe that we make decisions based on rational thought the reality is that we are much more emotionally driven and as the title suggest that head won’t go where the heart hasn’t been.

People who like this stuff…like this stuff
In this post I point out the key factors for why people often reluctant to change and outline my 4 step process for organizational change which has become the foundation for the graduate course Leading Organizational Change I teach at Lamar University

The following three posts are also compilations of ideas that deal with the mindset one requires to embrace change. In addition, I address the fact that we often need to model or embrace change by living it.

Sense of Urgency: Create It Now or React to It Later

Pick Two – Innovation, Change or Stability

Practice Change by Living It

It is most important to remember that while change often is a constant part of 21st century living we don’t have to fear it or just react to it and let it adversely impact our lives. If we are proactive we can embrace change and use it as an opportunity for growth and development.


The data is in and confirms that:

UK academics and professional and support staff inhabit “two parallel universes that have little point of contact”.

The Times Higher Education’s (THE) poll shows there is a deep gulf between academics and professional and support staff. Teaching and research are the primary source of job satisfaction for academics but most are not proud to represent their current university and more than half feel that their job has a negative impact on their health.

Source: THE University Workplace Survey 2016: results and analysis

In contrast, most professional (administrators) and support staff are not only proud of their current university they belief it benefits them and would recommend their institution as a great place to work.

Having worked as a faculty member and administrator in a variety of Universities across North America I am not surprised to learn that the survey reveals:

  • Most university staff find their jobs rewarding, but most academics feel overworked, exploited and ignored by management
  • A majority of staff feel satisfied with pay, conditions and professional development opportunities
  • Half of academics are worried about redundancies related to metrics-based performance measures
  • Half of academics think that their institutions have compromised undergraduate entry standards as competition for students has increased, and half feel under pressure to award higher marks.

I am also not surprised by the UK data and believe that it could be generalized and applied to institutions across the North America as well. I also see the two parallel universes in higher education here in North America because I have lived it.

Why is there such a split?

While the following attempt to explain and reconcile this split is not formally supported by any hard research I will however use the data from the survey, rely on almost three decades of experience in academia and will build on Simon Sinek’s argument in his TED Talk  “First why and then trust” to apply his ideas to this challenge.

Sinek argues that one of the most difficult challenges any organization will face is when the organization grows and becomes succesful the organizational “Why” or purpose separates from the organizational “What”. This “split” Sinek explains happens when an organization moves away from its original purpose and starts focusing on What they do without being grounded in Why they do it.

The data from the survey confirms that most faculty go into academic work because they truly enjoy the teaching, learning and research, so anything that interferes with this focus detracts from their experiences. Most educators firmly believe it is our responsibility to teach our learners to learn how to learn in order to prepare them for a world that is constantly changing. A very clear learner and learning centered Why or purpose.

Unfortunately, not all administrators have this same goal or purpose and this lack of a consistent Why or purpose is one of the primary causes for faulty distrust and the split. Too many administrators are not educators who are passionate about why we do what we do in education and are not learner and learning focused. Instead of the primary goal of serving our learners, too many administrators are focused first on the “What” on things like competition, measurement, costs, logistics and all too often change itself.

Sinek points out that when stress goes up and passion goes down, when the organization focuses more on what the competition is doing and less on what they are doing, when they start asking outsiders: “Who should we be?” and “How should we talk to you?” then you know that you have a split in your organizational Why and What and have strayed from your core values. The survey confirms that all these symptoms are present in the UK system and I from my experience would argue in our North American systems as well.

What can we do about it?

There is no denying, like so many other parts of our world, the educational landscape is being radically disrupted so there are significant changes happening with the way we learn, teach, and do research. These changes are inevitable but we do have the choice to be proactive or reactive. I have argued in the posts Sense of Urgency, Create it Now or React to it Later, Paradox of Being Proactive, and Pick Two–Innovation, Change or Stability that we need to be proactive and use disruptive innovation as a catalyst to enhance our learning environments. We have to start with the learner and the learning.

The key is to ensure that academics and administrators hold to the same Why or purpose. Not the vague or obtuse vision statement that most academic institutions have adopted as part of their business plans but the simple fact that it is our responsibility to teach our learners to learn how to learn in order to prepare them for a world that is constantly changing.

I believe we don’t have a choice but to bring together the two parallel universes we, unfortunately, see in our educational organizations. Fortunately, the steps for this unification are straight forward:

  1. Start with Why
  2. Identify and engage key influencers
  3. Install an effective execution strategy
  4. Enlist and empower self-differentiated leaders

In the post “People who like this stuff…like this stuff” I offer an explanation on how to expand on this four step process for organizational change.


Neal Martin explains why it is do difficult to make changes if you attempt to do so based solely on your conscious or rational mind. He also explains that we need to have our subconscious and conscious minds working together if we want to be successful in changing behavior. It is crucial for us to understand that habits are not cyclical but are springs and once loaded can work for or against us.

Habit Spring

If we want to change behavior we must disrupt old habits while we create new ones. To disrupt old habits:

  • Don’t load the spring
  • Eliminate the cue
  • Reframe the feedback

To create new habits:

  • Translate goal into behavior
  • Establish a clear context
  • Develop a reliable cue
  • Create a powerful reinforcement
  • Repeat until it feels normal

If we consider how difficult it can be to change personal behaviors perhaps we can appreciate how difficult it can be to change behavior in organizations. These principles can be applied to organizations and through models like the Influencer and 4DX we can disrupt old organization habits with new ones. Not an easy task because “People who like this stuff…like this stuff” but it can be done.


DEWEY Rob the future 1024


Without being crystal clear about the results you wish to achieve and being zealous about measuring them you will not be able to identify the vital behaviors that are crucial to your change initiative. To be successful you must avoid three common mistakes:

  1. Fuzzy, un-compelling goals – the lack of clarity or a vague sense of what you want to achieve (Help students be successful…, Build the team…)
  2. Infrequent or no measure – if you don’t measure your progress you will not know if you are making any.
  3. Bad measures – measuring the wrong thing.

Focused and Measurable Goals

This is the point where where a lack of clarity will hinder your entire initiative. You must focus on measurable results you want to improve. Consider the following:

“I’d love to loose weight” vs.
“I need to eat fewer calories than I burn” vs.
“I will loose 40 pounds and 20% body fat by September 1 of this year”.

The final statement, loosing “40 pounds and 20% body fat” by a certain date is clear, measurable and timely. Deadlines are another measure that contribute to success by helping to create a sense of urgency. A clearly defined goal with specific deadlines, milestones, or points of achievement can be measured and it also helps us measure the right things.

In our weight loss example stepping on the scale on a regular (daily) basis will let you know how well you are moving toward your goal. Weighing yourself daily is also one of a few vital behaviors that can lead to the results you want.

What are Vital Behaviors

Vital behaviors are repeatable high-leverage actions performed crucial moments that will lead to the results you want.

For example the following are very simple behaviors performed at crucial moments that can prevent serious problems.

  • A health care provider washes their hands upon entering a patients room.
  • A food preparation worker washes their hands after visiting the restroom and/or prior to handling food.
  • Sneezing or coughing into one’s elbow.
  • Washing hands often during cold and flu season.

This list affirms that vital behaviours are often obvious and underused. It is a mistake to underestimate or ignore these obvious vital behaviors. Several years ago, a doctor failed to wash his hands prior to the examination of the treatment of a planters wart on my foot and passed on a staff infection that almost caused the loss of my foot.  My eldest son is zealous about washing his hands during cold and flu season and he is seldom sick. The power of using vital behaviors is that you only have to use one or two and you can influence significant change.

Additional Examples of Vital Behaviors

Vital Behavior Examples

How to Find Vital Behaviors?

The influencer authors point to the following four vital behavior search strategies:

  1. Notice the Obvious – recognize behaviors that are obvious but underused.
  2. Look for Crucial Moments – time when behavior puts success at risk.
  3. Learn from Positive Deviants – look to those who live in the same world but produce positive results.
  4. Spot Culture Busters – behaviors that reverse stubborn cultural norms.

The One or Must action

Perhaps one the most effective ways to help identify a vital behavior is look at a Crucial Moment and ask –

If you could do only one thing what is that one action that you must do that would change everything and give you the result you desire?

It is important to remember that you are looking for the fewest behaviors or even that one thing that will lead to change. It is also important to recognize that not all behaviors are vital and there is a tendency to confuse behaviors with process, workflows or tasks. Depending on the context a process can include multiple steps and many behaviors. You are looking for that crucial moment, that one thing, that vital behavior.

If we go back to our example of loosing weight. Conventional wisdom dictates that you need to eat fewer calories then you burn. So eating less and exercising more would be the logical behaviors to change. But these are not focused enough and don’t really get at the key vital behavior that will bring about the weight loss.

Planning out meals the day before, keeping a food log, or simply writing down everything that you eats are examples of vital behaviors that will lead to eating less. Similarly, driving to the gym, getting on your treadmill/bike/trainer, or putting on your running gear are the vital behaviors that will lead to exercising more.

Testing your Vital Behaviors

Behaviors are actions not results or qualities. You can test whether you identified vital behaviors by asking:

  1. Can you go and “do it”?
  2. Do these actions stop self-defeating and escalating behaviors?
  3. Do these actions start a reaction that leads to good results?
  4. What particular value is being lived?

Also keep in mind that there is also a tendency to confuse goals or outcomes with behaviors, especially if your goal or outcomes are action oriented. If it isn’t actionable, it isn’t a behavior. If you can’t go and “do it”, it’s not a behavior.


Patterson, K., & Grenny, J. (2013). Influencer: The new science of leading change, Second Edition. McGraw-Hill Education.

Meier, J. D. (n.d.). Vital Behaviors [Blog]. Retrieved from