Continuous improvement is a popular trend in many organisations, and for good reason. The challenge for many leaders, however, is to encourage change and help their people get on board with it.
But it’s not only team improvement that’s important here. It’s also personal improvement for each team member. After all, helping your people develop and grow is part of good leadership.
It’s not always easy though. You might find your people getting stuck, unable or unwilling to change, even when alerted to a problem or opportunity.
In this post, I’ll take a look at a simple coaching model that can help you unlock the potential of your people.
Why Is Encouraging Change Such a Big Deal?
Helping your people to improve can be important for many reasons.
You might want to encourage change to help your people take on more responsibility or be more proactive. Or perhaps you need them to learn new skills to help the team work more effectively.
We might also look to encourage change in behaviour. Maybe to create a better team dynamic, reduce conflict or improve trust in the team.
Like it or not, leaders are in the business of making change.
So let’s look at a simple model which may help you to understand more about why your people may be getting stuck!
Use the Simple AAA Model to Encourage Change
I can’t quite remember when I came across this model, but it was at some point early in my coaching career.
I like it for its simplicity. We can use it in many different contexts, and I hope you find it useful too.
Let’s get into it.
The AAA stands for Awareness, Acceptance and Action.
Create Awareness to Encourage Change
The first step in this model is awareness. Awareness is what it sounds like – becoming aware of something.
In many ways, I see awareness as the easy part.
There are lots of ways that we can gain awareness. Here are just a few:
- You might provide your team member with feedback on their performance. All of a sudden, they are aware of your expectations and your opinion about how they have performed.
- A team member may make a big mistake at work. All of a sudden, they are painfully aware of a shortcoming, limitation or perhaps inattention to detail that has caused the mistake.
- A team member might meet someone who is doing a job they’ve never heard of, which seems really cool. Their awareness has been raised about a potential opportunity for change to a better career path; or
- A person can experience strong emotions about a situation which raises awareness. A colleague received a pay rise and they didn’t. Or they missed out on a job they applied for because the other candidates were better in some way.
As you can see, awareness is all about bringing attention to an issue, opportunity or simply feelings about a situation.
This can happen naturally, or as a result of communicating to intentionally raise awareness.
Learn More: 10 Simple & Effective Tips For Giving Feedback.
Acceptance Must Take Place, Before Change Can Happen
The next step is acceptance, and I believe this is the most valuable (and challenging) part of the process.
Awareness is needed to bring the problem or opportunity to the person’s attention. But if there is no acceptance, nothing will happen after that.
Acceptance can come in a few different forms.
Firstly, acceptance might mean that a person acknowledges that they have some control over the situation, and have the ability to make a change.
Acceptance might also mean that a person starts to believe that an issue or opportunity is real and true.
And lastly, acceptance might mean that the person comes to believe that the issue or opportunity is worth doing something about.
Why People Might Struggle With Acceptance
Let’s flip it around. We’ve seen some of the forms that acceptance can take, but what stops people from accepting?
There are a bunch of different reasons, and here are some of them:
- A person may feel as if they can’t do anything to change a situation. That it is out of their control.
- Someone may not believe that an issue presented is from a credible source. For example, if you provide someone with feedback, they may dismiss it because they don’t trust you. In this case, the feedback is not “real”.
- People may also fail to make the link between an issue and a potential action which could improve it. “It’s not my problem” or “That’s not because of anything I did”
- Sometimes people may fail to realise the seriousness of the problem. “It’s not a big deal” or “It’ll sort itself out”
- It may be that the person doesn’t feel they have the skills, ability or motivation to do anything about a problem; or
- Perhaps the person knows that making a change would require a big effort, or create another challenge which they’re not ready to tackle.
That’s a lot of reasons why we might not accept our situation, or that we can do anything about it.
This is why I consider this to be the most challenging step of the process.
Consider the person who is unhealthy, overweight and then has a heart attack. They almost die, and suddenly they change their habits, starting to exercise and eat well.
How many times have you heard a story like that? It’s a powerful example of acceptance leading to action.
My Knee Injury and the AAA Process
Here is a personal example of how I once traversed this AAA process.
Over the years, I’ve played a lot of sport, mostly indoor soccer and basketball. A few years back, I ruptured my Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL), which is a key stabiliser of the knee.
I didn’t actually know it was ruptured at first, as it had happened gradually over a few years. As a result, my knee would pop out occasionally, sending me crashing to the floor while playing sport.
Once the injury was correctly diagnosed, I went to see a surgeon who booked me in for surgery.
But before I had the surgery, someone in my team at work told me about a Physiotherapist who specialised in non-surgical rehabilitation for these injuries.
I was interested, because I wanted to avoid surgery if I could. My awareness had been raised of a potential opportunity for a different treatment option.
Getting to Acceptance
This was a bit of a daunting process. “What do you mean you can still walk around and play sport with a ruptured ACL?” I asked.
It seemed a bit far-fetched, so I was a little way off acceptance at that point.
Then I met the physio, who walked me through the process and how it might work. Lots of rehab, strengthening exercises, balance work, jumping on one leg, getting the conditioning right.
But still, I was a bit skeptical. Then he showed me examples of people who had done it before. Videos and interviews with snowboarders, surfers, soccer players … all people who were still competing professionally with a busted ACL.
And I wasn’t a professional… I didn’t need my knee to be at professional level anyway!
Then he showed me research studies with evidence that showed results of non-surgical vs. surgical approaches, proving that in many cases, it worked just as well, if not better than surgery. (Disclaimer: it doesn’t work in all cases, and sometimes surgery is required, depending on the injury).
Importantly, the physio was also extremely encouraging, positive and supportive. Showing belief in me that I could do it.
Now, 3 years later, at age 43 (at the time of publishing this article), I still play in basketball competitions twice a week with no issues, and my ruptured ACL has never healed.
Of course, I need to maintain my strengthening exercises each week to make sure the knee remains stable. But it works.
After Acceptance, Action Is Possible
Without awareness, nothing happens.
Once you reach acceptance, change is possible.
With support, action is inevitable.
If you’re trying to encourage change in your team, consider this model and what it means for your people.
Are they aware of the problem or opportunity?
How can you help them to gain acceptance that they can change, and the problem is worth solving?
How can you support them to take action to make it happen?
Have you noticed the AAA model in action in your team? How do you help your team navigate the process to encourage change? Let me and all the thoughtful leaders know in the comments below!