Saturday, November 27, 2010

Change in action

My last post on the Transtheoretical model was a quick summary of the basics of the model:
  • Stages of change
  • What to do in a stage
  • Self-efficacy
  • Decisional balance
I am going to try to give some more applicable examples of the theory in action. These are subjective interpretation of my experience, if you want to read empirically validated studies of model check out the references in the last post.

Introducing change

"A sense of urgency", or "the burning platform" are phrases often used as summaries for how to kick off change. Honestly, if the floor was on fire, I would feel a sense of urgency and we would be changing pretty quickly. This often doesn't work so well in organisational settings. The executive burning platform is probably not shared with the people who ... um ... do the work. I think this is particularly so in IT, especially with the great job market.

From a TTM perspective senior management may be well into preparation or action, but the rest of the organisation is in precontemplation where the what to do is "raise awareness".

As leaders get amongst the work and the people doing the work. Look at what is happening and let the people know about the organisational situation and what they can do to help. Take down the motivational posters or the awards or the press releases and replace this will real data that affects the day to day work lives of the people who need to change.

The information and education needs to be situational. I am currently working with two groups trying to adopt some new practices. For one group there is great technology and industry support for what they want to do, for the other they will need to break new ground. The education for the two groups is quite different, the former is more on "how, with a little why". For the latter it is much more about "why", focusing on the principles behind the change, the benefits to them and their work. If I take the same approach with both groups one would never get out of precontemplation - of course there is no certainty they will anyway, but let's give them the best chance.

Group 1
  • Good technology support
  • Good industry knowledge
  • Expect a reasonably quick shift in decisional balance and self-efficacy due to this external validation of the change - will vary on an individual basis

Group 2
  • Poor technology support
  • Bugger all industry knowledge
  • Expect to maintain high self-efficacy and no change in decisional balance as "no one else has done this, so why should we"
It's not that the change we want to adopt is not beneficial but there is no burning platform. There is no urgency for these guys if there was other people would be making the change. If we can get an understanding of the benefits of the change then the decisional balance may shift and we can get some movement.

Starting to change

If we get through precontemplation - maybe it's been mandated that people change what they are doing, that's always effective - then we need to help people get through contemplation.

Contemplation is where the decisional balance is pretty even, and the self-efficacy is low. For example if you want to introduce a new way to estimate (or get rid of estimation) for projects then just about everyone involved is going to be feeling uncomfortable. You'll probably hear this like "Why don't we just do this the way we always have?", which is ok because change is hard. Now it's time to "roll with the resistance", don't confront it.

In a team we want people working together so if you attack someone who is feeling out of place then you lose part of the team, it's a bad choice. Focus on any ambivalence, use the data/information you have used before to help work through precontemplation. Explore the pros and cons of staying the same and the pros and cons of changing - for example talk about what happened with projects that were estimated in "usual way" what was good about that, what was bad, focus on the principles behind the change rather than the mechanics. Let the individuals decide to make the change.

Getting going

Preparation needs to focus on small steps to help people build in their self-efficacy. If you want to adopt XP it's going to be very hard to adopt all the practices over night. In an organisation there will be existing social, process, environmental and technology moderators to any change, so you need to create some success in this complex environment. Having senior organisation support can be very helpful in clearing blockers to change, but few senior managers are going to be blindly courageous so you need to give them some evidence the change will work.

When taking action make sure you have something to measure with rather than just imagine everything is going great. Demonstrate the progress and check on whether it is growing.

TDD adoption for example can have some simple steps of just having a simple test written in some example code rather than aiming for a unit test coverage from day 1. The success of setting up the unit test framework and then writing test, executing the build to watch the test fail/pass gives someone some obvious success with this practice that can be built on.

Once you are going be ready for the grinding halt of relapse. This will happen and it will happen a few times.

Back to the beginning

I am waiting for you, Vizzini. You told me to go back to the beginning. So I have. This is where I am, and this is where I will stay. I will not be moved.

Relapse will happen, be prepared. Learn from relapse, look at what was tried, why didn't it work, what will need to be different.

In an organisation there will be many potential causes for this, perhaps it's a time constraint, or how bonus structures are put in place.

From my experience tracking delivery is a common area of relapse for teams trying to change. When organisations are used to committing to dates and scope and dollars the change to measure delivery in contrast with measuring the plan is very difficult. Relapsing to old ways of thinking and behaving is reflected in commitment based planning, extended hours, tracking partially done work. If you know this is going to happen then you can be ready for the event, accept it and be ready to demonstrate the side-effects.

The way we work

Maintenance and termination is what we are aiming for, and this requires long and sustained effort. Building on small successes and adapting from failures is hard work.

In my last post I had "party" as what to do when you have made it to termination. This is rather facetious as in termination the change is part of normality and how often do you have a party for the run or the mill parts of life?

For teams adopting agile practices you know you are in these stages when people feel uncomfortable when not working collaboratively. For example no one person on the team will estimate a piece of work, when the teams starts a new delivery they want to talk about it with the customer/product owner to get a good understanding of the why and what of the delivery.


In the TTM framework resistance can be understood as a mix of the stage of change and decisional balance. People who are in precontemplation - not thinking of changing - that suddenly have some kind of change thrust upon them will be extremely unwilling to change not because they are necessarily people who won't change, but they think the cons of the change outweigh the pros. From this perspective it's easier to work with people in precontemplation as the situation is depersonalised and have a less confrontational discussion.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


Transtheoretical model is widely used to help people make and understand change. The research for the model comes from health studies, particularly focused on drug addiction (e.g. tobacco). Some researchers have tested the model outside of the realm of addiction and found it to be a broadly applicable model for change.

The model integrates several theories - hence the name - and its core is a stages of change structure.

Precontemplation - In this stage you are not thinking about change in the next six months
Contemplation - In this stage you are thinking about change in the next six months
Preparation - Making plans for change
Action - Executing the plans
Maintenance - Successful action over several month
Relapse - Reverting to old behaviours
Termination - New behaviour is natural

An important feature of this model is the open recognition of relapse. When making change there are is always the possibility of falling back into old ways, and acknowledging this gives you the opportunity to deal with it.

Many change theories have stages, Kubler-Ross's stage of grief for example, the advantage of TTM is that it you have guidance at each stage. Stages of grief for example can help you explain what is happening, but not what to do about it, TTM gives you more than "oh, I am bargaining now".

What to do...
Precontemplation - raise awareness, give someone the reason to change
Contemplation - an extremely ambivalent stage, play on this, tease out the tension, let the person make the decision
Preparation - plan small steps, you need to build on success
Action - support and encouragement, prepare for relapse - it will happen
Maintenance - support and encouragement
Relapse - this is falling back to another stage, it may be precontemplation, contemplation, use the techniques required at that stage.
Termination - pat yourself on the back and select a new goal

There a two other fundamental elements to the model (adding up to the transtheoretical name):
- Self efficacy
- Decisional balance

Self efficacy is how well someone thinks they can perform in a specific domain or circumstance. The degree of self efficacy an individual will feel across the stages of change varies and can be an indicator to where someone is within TTM.

Precontemplation - High
Contemplation - Lower
Preparation - Lower
Action - Growing
Maintenance - High
Relapse - Low
Termination - High

What I find interesting is that self-efficacy is high in precontemplation. In this stage someone is feeling good about what you do and how you do it, you have no reason for change, so you "resist" change.

Transitioning into contemplation self-efficacy is lowered because of uncertainty about the new behaviours and no longer convinced about the existing behaviours.

As you practice the change through preparation and action you will build in your self-efficacy through small successes. Eventually the change is part of who the person is and how they act, self-efficacy is once again at its peak.

Decisional balance is about weighing up the pros and cons of change. Over the stages of change this balance changes.

Decisional balance...
Precontemplation - Cons out weigh pros
Contemplation - Pros and cons are equal (near)
Preparation - Pros start to outweigh cons
Action - Pros outweigh cons
Maintenance - Pros outweigh cons
Relapse - Cons out weigh pros
Termination - Pros outweigh cons

In important implication of this is that when you are thinking resistance it may be that someone doesn't see the need to change. The cons of change outweigh the pros, they feel effective in what they are doing, there is no reason for them to change.

Brief summary (in crappy HTML table)

Transtheoretical model
Stage What to do Self-efficacyDecisional Balance
Precontemplation raise awareness HighCons outweigh pros
Contemplation work with the tension, let the person make the decision LowPros and cons equal
Preparation plan small steps, you need to build on success GrowingPros outweigh cons
Action support and encouragement, prepare for relapse HighPros outweigh cons
Maintenance support and encouragementHighPros outweigh cons
Relapse revisit other stages LowDecisional Balance
Termination party HighPros outweigh cons

Some light reading to kill off the insomnia

Velicer, W. F., C. C. DiClemente, et al. (1985). "Decisional balance measure for assessing and predicting smoking status." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 48(5): 1279-1289.

McConnaughy, E. A., J. O. Prochaska, et al. (1983). "Stages of change in psychotherapy: Measurement and sample profiles." Psychotherapy: Theory, Research & Practice 20(3): 368-375.

Prochaska, J. O. and C. C. DiClemente (1983). "Stages and processes of self-change of smoking: Toward an integrative model of change." Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 51(3): 390-395.

Prochaska, J. O. and et al. (1982). "Self-change processes, self-efficacy and self-concept in relapse and maintenance of cessation of smoking." Psychological Reports 51(3, Pt 1): 983-990.

Prochaska, J. O., W. F. Velicer, et al. (1994). "Stages of change and decisional balance for 12 problem behaviors." Health Psychology 13(1): 39-46.

Grant, A. M. (2006). An Integrative Goal-Focused Approach to Executive Coaching. Evidence based coaching handbook: Putting best practices to work for your clients. Hoboken, NJ, John Wiley & Sons Inc; US: 153-192.

Grant, A. M. and J. Franklin (2007). "The transtheoretical model and study skills." Behaviour Change 24(2): 99-113.