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How to make change happen

How to make change happen
The secret to creating a successful action plan is to set measurable, manageable and motivational objectives, advises ADAPTATHON speaker Professor Julie Hay.

One of the ways that we sabotage ourselves is to have action plans that are vague. Then we never know whether we have achieved our aims or not. To overcome this, we need to meet the criteria for ‘proper’ objectives: that they are specific and measurable; that they are manageable, as in realistic and achievable; that they are worthwhile, challenging, motivational.

Make your objectives measurable

To ensure our action plans contain objectives that are measurable, we need to answer such questions as:
• What exactly am I planning to do?
• How will I behave?
• In what situation(s)?
• With which people?
• When will I do this?
• How will I know I have achieved my objective?

“Get on better with Harry”, is not specific enough. We need something like “Spend five minutes at least three times a week chatting casually with Harry about his hobbies”. This tells us what, how, when, with whom. It is measurable – we can check during the week that we are on target so we don’t have to chat to Harry three times on Friday afternoon.

Measuring progress is very important. It provides reinforcement when we can congratulate ourselves on doing what we planned. Without adequate measures, we miss the satisfaction of knowing we have achieved our objectives. We also need the measure so that we can decide when we have incorporated the change into our usual behaviour; then we can move on to the next challenge.

Make your objectives manageable

The manageable element has a different set of considerations; how realistic and achievable is what we plan to do? Do you currently find Harry very difficult to talk to? If so, is it realistic to plan to spend most of the week with him? Talking to him for five minutes three times a week is probably realistic. Set the target higher and you might well find it too hard to achieve.

Objectives need to be selected so that we have a good likelihood of attaining them. Picking the biggest problem to tackle first is not the best route to success. Instead, start with something that can be realistically accomplished – you can always up the stakes later if you find it’s too easy.

Manageability also relates to power to act. We can only change our own behaviour, not anyone else’s. Chatting to Harry is only acceptable as an objective if we are sure that Harry will agree to talk to us. If he is likely to walk away and ignore us, the objective is not achievable.

Make your objectives motivational

We need to balance achievability with how motivational our selected objectives are; how challenging and worthwhile are they? There is no point having an action plan about things which are not important or are simple to put into effect. If we could easily go and chat to Harry a few times a week, why not just do it now we realise it would improve our relationship.

We get little feeling of satisfaction from making easy changes. We need to tackle something that we recognise as a real challenge, so that we will have an incentive to persevere. Otherwise, our reaction is likely to be “so what?” after we have implemented our plan.

Objectives also need to be motivational in the sense that they contribute to our overall effectiveness. It may be nice to get to know Harry but hardly worthwhile if he is leaving the organisation shortly (unless we want to continue the relationship, or see Harry as a useful test case on which to improve our ability to relate to others).

Get more insight on transforming your relationships with clients and colleagues on the ADAPT hub

This is an extract from Julie Hay's book 'Working It Out At Work' (2009) Sherwood Publishing ©. 

Last updated 03/10/2013

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