"Tracey’s Takeaways" is a regular feature that focuses on employee development, management issues, leadership and organizational culture.

It’s January, and that means it is the time of New Year’s resolutions made … and often abandoned or broken within a matter of weeks. Why is it so hard to stick to our resolutions? First, let’s look at why we make resolutions to begin with. A resolution is essentially a decision to either start or stop doing something, often tied to self-improvement or accomplishing a particular task or goal.

At the root of a resolution then is some level of frustration or dissatisfaction regarding the status quo. We want to change something. And change is hard. And if change is hard for individuals, then it can be exponentially hard for organizations. Here are three things that can make your commitment to change stickier:

  1. Start with a positive reason for change. Researchers on human behavior have discovered that negative feelings like shame, regret, fear and guilt are woefully ineffective as catalysts for long-term behavior change. Take that ever popular resolution to lose weight—is it starting from a negative place? (I’m fat and don’t like the way I look.) Or, a positive one? (If I lose weight I’ll have more energy to play the sport I love.) Meaningful, lasting change needs a positive motivator at its core.

  2. Don’t let failure derail you. Two truisms: (1) we will make mistakes, and (2) nobody likes to fail. Our brains are hardwired to avoid things that make us feel bad. So when we approach a change, whether personal or organizational with that unconscious avoidance of things that make us feel bad, we are setting ourselves up to quit at the first sign of failure. You can shortcut that if you EXPECT and PLAN for failure. Tell yourself: we’re going to screw something up, so what might that be? What could we learn from that? How would we fix it? Also, keep things in perspective: Is this failure really enough to stop the change initiative? In providing electric power, there are decisions that can have life and death consequences, but many or even most decisions don’t rise to that level.

  3. Expect the change process to take longer and be more complicated than you originally thought. Leaders are often disconnected from the minutiae associated with their teams’ daily work. It is easy then to think that change can happen at a faster pace than is truly possible. So first, be realistic. Second, remember that you’re dealing with people’s emotions and mindset and not just their skill set when making a change. Staff may be fearful of the change, not fully understand it, question it or outright resist it. Pay equal attention to the “soft” side of implementing change.

While none of these are a silver bullet, each step can improve the chances of following through on your resolutions. I wish you success in your 2019 endeavors! Email me and let me know how it goes.

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Tracey Steiner is NRECA's senior vice president for education and training. Her 25-year career at NRECA has spanned a variety of roles starting in communications and marketing positions then 15 years as an attorney focusing on cooperative governance and public policy issues before moving to Education & Training in 2012.