Pick up any newspaper, glance at the banner ads on any website, and you see hype for fantastic weight loss programs. But the advocates for such programs are the slim (in both senses) minority. According to most estimates, dieting fails to produce permanent weight loss 90-95 percent of the time.

Interestingly, business change initiatives suffer from the same failure rate.

There are other similarities, beginning with the exciting “launch.”  Whether it’s to spur weight loss or performance gain, it begins with claims that all people need to do is commit to four or five “simple” steps, and success will be theirs.

So the dieter and the employees make a fairly serious effort to adopt the new approach. But old habits are hard to break, new ones are hard to form, and eventually, everything slides back to business as usual. More great intentions bite the dust.

Just because quick fixes don’t work for dieters or organizations doesn’t mean that you should surrender to the first box of chocolates that tries to seduce you or to an unacceptable workplace status quo.

But make sure your workplace improvement efforts follow the same principles that underlie wise weight control and better health. This month, let’s explore two of the most important:

Establish realistic goals.

A stunningly ambitious improvement goal can look great on paper and generate fervor in the hearts of dieters and employees alike. But setting a superhuman goal does not necessarily provoke greater commitment or discipline.  If it’s beyond the reach of the best and brightest, it can do more harm than good; when results fall short, the disappointment can be so great that people give up entirely.

Instead, develop goals that are big enough to stir excitement yet small enough to be doable. For instance, instead of attempting to “overhaul the organization’s project management system,” just “develop an alternative system and pilot it with three upcoming projects.”

Tap into Long-Term Motivators

Big accomplishments need more than a nano-second of motivation. This is a marathon, perhaps even a race with no finish line, not a quick sprint.
People’s weight-loss goals may be prompted by a doctor’s lecture, or an upcoming class reunion or beach vacation. But once those events are a distant memory, so is the commitment to a healthy lifestyle.

Similarly, if workplace goals are spurred by a top-down directive or if employees have little say in how the change is implemented, their commitment will be half-hearted at best.

Successful dieters are more likely to “go long”– they’re motivated by watching their grandchildren grow up.  As for employees, if they’re close to their internal and external customers and know what’s important to them, and if they’re able to decide for themselves how to implement the change, then motivation comes from the inside out. Nothing is more powerful than long-term, intrinsic motivation.

Next month, I’ll reveal the three other lessons that change agents can learn from those committed to long-term health.

If your organization would like a keynote speech or training program
on this or other topics, contact Jeanne Baer at  (402) 475-1127 or
visit me on the web at http://www.cts-online.net.
Copyright 2011 Creative Training Solutions