Talking about change doesn’t drive real impact

Pic by David Marcu

I Have Mixed Emotions About The Women’s March

Last Saturday I felt amazed and yet sad.

I was amazed to see the huge crowds gather in every major city in the US but also in many countries. A meaningful cause had brought millions of people together. And their voice was powerful and needed to be heard.

It was sad that the very one person, to which the march was addressed, didn’t acknowledge it. He acted as if the march never happened. Though his reaction was predictable, the actions of millions fell short of gaining attention to the person that mattered most.

Which takes me to one the most important question changemakers need to ask. What is the real impact of the things we do? How can we separate the illusion of change from real change?

The Illusion of Change

The Women’s March was a tremendous first step. A huge inspiration and excitement for both participants and non-participants alike. But now what? This New York Times piece provides some interesting answers so I’m not going to get into that.

This historical event is a great prompt for all of us to ask: now what? To reflect on the impact we are trying to create both personally and professionally. I hope this post helps you to avoid getting caught in the illusion of change. And inspire you to drive real change.

We all trick ourselves when it comes to change. I’ve learned this working with both corporate clients and individuals. People find it easier to spend more time talking about what “they are going to change” than actually changing. Many organizations spend more time and energy in selling their new strategy or celebrating self-serving headlines than in making things happen.

Do this quick exercise. At your current job, what percentage of your time is allocated to talking about change (status meetings, planning sessions, reporting, etc.)? And what percentage is spent in making change happen (launching new projects or implementing something)?

When I ask this question to any team, the results are revealing. And many times, frightening too.

Something similar happens on a personal level. It takes much more than posting a motivational quote on Facebook or Pinterest to create change. As Heather Gray says on her post: “…liking or sharing that quote does very little to create actual change. You feel good for a quick moment […] but then…nothing happens.”

There’s a huge difference between posting a nice phrase and living behind those standards. Inspiration can help us get started. To turn words into action is what matters.

Telling everyone that you are starting a diet on Monday won’t help you lose a couple of pounds. Losing weight is not just about getting started but about building a new behavior. It takes time to move beyond the illusion and create real results.

How to Move Beyond the Illusion

Let’s start by being less naïve towards slogans and catchy phrases. The downside of living in an era of instantaneity is that we “like” things too fast without a deep consideration.

A couple of days ago, someone posted on LinkedIn that he was about to start a new project in his life. One that would be very challenging. And that needed everyone’s support. The funny thing is that he neither provided what the “project” was all about nor what he was trying to achieve.

Lack of specificity didn’t prevent hundreds of people to chime in.

The post received hundreds of likes and encouraging comments. People were congratulating him about a completely vague change project that he hadn’t even started yet. No one was clear but they all felt sympathetic.

We all get caught in the illusion of change. And celebrate it . Though it can be harmful to the person in question. After so much “encouragement” we made him feel like a hero even though he achieved nothing.

Here are some common-sense questions to separate real change from illusion:

  • Is this project for real? Have you started it or are simply talking about it?
  • What is the impact you want to create?
  • What concrete actions are required to achieve the goals?
  • How will you measure the impact?

Six Tips to Drive Real Change

As I mentioned at the beginning, I want to inspire you to drive real change. These tips are simple prompts to being more mindful. To help you separate illusion from reality.

  1. Who are you designing change for matters more than you do: If you are looking to impact others, then it’s critical that you understand –and prioritize- their needs and mindset. Other people won’t react the same way you’ll do. Make sure you don’t create an event that’s meaningful to you but gets unnoticed to who it really matters to.
  2. The impact matters more than your intentions: Avoid falling in love with your purpose or ideas. How are you going to measure the impact you want to achieve? Start with defining what do you want to achieve. The impact that you want to create is more important than the why. Measure objectively rather than getting caught by self-serving headlines.
  3. Challenge everything, especially yourself: Getting inspired by a quote is good. But don’t forget to read in between the lines. Are you sharing something because it feels good or because you are committing to live behind those words? Think twice before endorsing something. Make sure you are promoting real change, not just the illusion.
  4. Change requires more than one act: It takes times to build a new habit. Like learning to play an instrument or a diet, repetition is critical to building a new habit. And real change happens only when that newer habit has replaced an older one. To generate momentum. To build advocacy.
  5. Focus on actual changes versus change promises: Sharing the initial results of an initiative that has just being launched is more engaging than talking about future changes. Actions speak louder than words. Don’t share what you are going to do but what you’ve achieved so far. Keep building from there.
  6. Be flexible, and Learn: To have a lofty goal is important. But having milestones to celebrate will help you find motivation You can also use them to reflect and adjust your plans. One of the most common mistakes of change makers is not pivoting. Learn from what’s working and what’s not. Use those insights to improve your chances to create impact.

Only then you can focus on the question: what’s next?

Before You Go

If you are interested to learn more about our Change Leadership School, go here: http://liberationist.org

Follow our Medium publication: Stretch for Change for thoughts on Leadership, Innovation and Culture Transformation.

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