By | Dave Ulrich | Speaker, Author, Professor, Thought Partner on HR, Leadership, and Organization
Nearly every holiday greeting this year recognized the challenges of 2020 and expressed hope for 2021.
I agree and have done the same.
But “hope” is not enough. For the lessons of 2020 to endure, individuals and leaders need to move beyond hoping for a better future to creating it with disciplined and sustainable actions. Hope alone is like daydreaming about winning the lottery but never buying a ticket.
Making 2021 hopes become sustainable results is neither simple nor easy. Evidence and personal experience suggests that most change efforts are not sustained:
- Ninety-eight percent of us fail to keep New Year’s resolutions to change bad habits.
- Seventy percent of Americans who pay off credit card debt with a home equity loan end up with the same or higher debt in two years.
- Americans spend $40 billion a year on diets, but nineteen out of twenty lose nothing but their money.
- Marriage counseling saves fewer than one in five couples on the brink of divorce.
- Seventy percent of organization change initiatives fail to deliver on their promises.
Given this tendency towards recidivism, how can the onerous events of 2020 lead to sustained positive experiences in 2021?
A few years ago, Norm Smallwood and I culled the literature related to sustained change in various fields, from psychology to organizations to negotiations to economics to sociology to politics. We synthesized our findings in our book Leadership Sustainability, where we identify seven disciplines that turn aspirations into sustained results (exhibit 1).
Think about your aspirations for 2021: a personal lesson you learned from the challenges of 2020, a hope you have for 2021, or an organizational initiative you would like to implement. Review the seven disciplines in exhibit 1 to help you turn those aspirations into sustainable results.
When we use these seven principles effectively, we can turn our hopes into reality. These disciplines spell the mnemonic START ME, which is apt because, for each of us, sustainability starts with me. The difficult challenges of 2020 would be a compounded tragedy if the lessons learned don’t result in sustainable new experiences.
For example, I hope that leaders and organizations will personalize the work setting through more emotion, empathy, and experience, and through more flexibility in where and how work is done. To make my hope a sustainable result, I should explore the seven disciplines:
- Simplicity: Will others understand “personalization” at work? What are the simple messages of this hope?
- Time: How does personalization show up in daily events? What do leaders actually do to personalize work?
- Accountability: How can leaders demonstrate ownership of the personalization agenda in public forums and private conversations?
- Resources: How can leaders pivot from directive to coaching leadership so that they personalize the employee experience? How will personalization be institutionalized through HR practices (hiring, promotions, training, compensation, policies)?
- Tracking: What are the behaviors and outcomes that relate to personalization? Are these indicators being tracked and monitored?
- Melioration: How will personalization efforts evolve in a world of uncertainty where what works now may not work in the future?
- Emotion: How can employees express their feelings and demonstrate commitment to personalization by their words and actions?
In addition to my hope for personalization of work that will enhance individual well-being, I have great hope in helping business and HR leaders make better people and organization investments in 2021 through the Organization Guidance System (OGS). Similar to the checklist to realize personalization, we have used these seven disciplines to make the Organization Guidance System a reality (see “How Well Do You Manage Your ‘Portfolio’ of Organization Effectiveness (HR) Initiatives?” and “What if . . . The Value of an Organization Guidance System”). The OGS (free of charge at www.rbl.ai) offers enormous opportunity to make intelligent and data-driven investments in people and organization initiatives that deliver sustained outcomes.
Glancing backward is appropriate; fixating forward to turn aspirations (lessons learned, hopes, and initiatives) into sustainable realities may be more useful. My hope is that these seven disciplines may help make 2021 even better.