“According to your 360o assessment, you need to communicate more and better with your teams,” says Ivan, the Sales Head at Bering’s System.
Hearing this, Chris explodes, “AGAIN! I thought I have been doing that for the last one year!” He is on the verge of a meltdown.
Chris has been getting this feedback for a long time now, and not that he has ignored it. He has accepted it as a development area and is willing to change.
But it looks like he hasn’t made much progress. Chris demonstrates the desired behaviour for a while before he falls back to his old ways.
He wonders why his efforts to change are so ineffective.
When Ivan pointed “change or die,” Chris knew unless he makes a sustainable improvement, he won’t be able to grow further in his career.
However, he wonders, “But can you really teach old dogs new tricks?” “Can I change at this age?”
Well, the answer is YES.
In contrast to the popular belief, the adult mind can grow and adapt to new situations.
Based on three decades of adult developmental research, Professor Robert Kegan and Dr. Lisa Lahey of the Harvard Graduate School of Education designed the Immunity to Change Model. They proposed that change efforts can bring desired results only when they focus on both technical changes to skills and adaptive changes to mindset.
Unlike most individual development plans, which talk solely about technical skill development, Immunity to Change puts the spotlight on mental transformation along with technical skill development.
Behind each of our habits is a deeply held belief or assumption that fights any change to the status quo. Kegan and Lahey compare this ‘resistance to change’ to ‘human immunity’, which fights any external agent that enters our body and tries to make a change.
Our behaviours are a result of the assumptions ingrained in our subconscious mind. A sustainable change happens when we become aware of these limiting assumptions, challenge them, and free ourselves of these.
Given that the deep-seated assumptions are magnetic and the status quo so potent, let’s see how we can apply the Immunity to Change Model to change ourselves.
How to use the Immunity to Change Model?
We need to create a four-column “immunity map” that will guide you through self-improvement by unearthing, challenging, and adjusting your beliefs and assumptions.
Step #1 Choose your improvement goal
What areas of your life would you like to improve? Is it being a better listener, improving work performance, healthier relationships, saving more money or anything else?
Take a moment to list all the concrete behaviours that will help you achieve your goal.
Try to frame your behaviours as positive statements.
For example, if you are thinking of saving more money, you might consider buying fewer things, finding cheaper alternatives, cooking at home more, and sticking to a list when you buy groceries.
Step #2 Remove undermining behaviours
Next, you list the actual behaviours that prevent you from achieving your self-improvement goal.
Ask yourself, “What’s behaviour you do or don’t do that impede your progress towards the goal?”
Here you talk about the actions that you actually do and not would want to do?
Tip: Be honest. You need not explain your behaviours, just objectively write whatever you notice.
Focus on your actions, not feelings.
For example, you eat out or take away at least 3-4 times a week, impulse buy in the grocery store, shopping for new clothes every weekend, etc.
Step #3 Confront competing commitments
Look at the behaviours you’ve listed in Step 2 above.
Imagine doing the exact opposite of these ‘actual’ behaviours.
How would you feel? What are your worries, fears, or anxieties in doing the opposite behaviours? What do you think will be compromised?
These are your “competing commitments.”
For example, if you don’t eat out, you’ll end up wasting time cooking and cleaning the dishes; If you don’t do impulse buying, what if you might not get to explore new items? If you don’t shop for new clothes, what if you’ll be wearing out-of-fashion clothes or considered ‘poor’?
Clearly, emotions and perceptions are actively stopping you from ‘saving more money’! Even before they become real, you try to avoid feelings of shame, isolation, and disappointment.
If you acknowledge these commitments that are competing with your goal: saving more money and having financial stability, you’ll appreciate why you are unable to take exact steps towards your goal.
Step #4 Challenge your big assumptions
According to Lahey, “big assumptions are the beliefs and internalized truths we hold about how the world works, how we work, and how people respond to us. They are assumptions that make each hidden commitment feel necessary.”
The competing commitments uncovered in Step 3 stem from “big assumptions”.
Unless you challenge these “big assumptions,” there is no way to knowing for sure whether they are true or not.
One way to uncover our big assumptions is to apply “If ____, then ____” thinking to our competing commitments in Step 3.
These big assumptions undermine rather than support our improvement goal.
For example, “If I am not seen as fashionable or spending money, then I’ll be considered poor, and no one will become my friend.”
Where best to use it?
Immunity to Change Model is best used to coach on stubborn behavioural blocks and enable an individual to be free from self-limiting behaviours. Changes that are difficult but critical to one’s success or wellbeing call for Immunity to Change. It’s widely used when the same issue keeps sprouting despite best intentions and efforts.
Common issues addressed by Immunity to Change framework:
- Health issues
- Relationship troubles
- Leadership development
- Work/life balance
- Lifestyle habits
- Emotional wellbeing
- Happiness quotient
Immunity to Change Model helps to uncover an individual’s hidden beliefs and competing commitments to make steady progress towards their stated goals.
A quick conclusion on how to try it
The place to try the Immunity to Change Model is by defining a self-improvement goal that you want to achieve right now. What’s that one thing that you would like to improve in your life? Think about something important enough to jostle you out of your comfort zone. If you want, you can work with a close friend because sometimes our blind spots aren’t visible to us. Hearing someone else’s viewpoint may help. Make sure you completely trust this person.
Robert Kegan, Lisa Laskow Lahey (February, 2009), Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential In Yourself and Your Organization, Harvard Business Review Press