For whatever reason I really hate making New Year resolutions. Maybe it is the dead cold of January that doesn’t exactly feel motivating, or maybe it is sluggishness that always results from a two month Thanksgiving-Christmas food binge, but every January I feel a mix of guilt and anger at the constant resolution-talk. No, I don’t like resolutions, and if I’m really honest I know why. It is because I don’t have any faith that I will be successful. I know myself too well, I have many years of goal-setting flops to draw on and most importantly I don’t like being detailed or consistent with anything, and development goals definitely require consistency. I am not a detailed person and I don’t like doing anything consistently. But I can’t deny that there are things that I would like to learn, to improve on, and some healthy habits I would love to make a consistent part of my life— most notably I want to be more active and to eat less processed food. As part of the Capability Connections team I think and write and teach a lot about goals–usually in the area of change management and leadership development. I know that in organizations leadership development and and change management initiatives create engagement, improve teams, and lead to overall increased profitability. Here at the Connect Blog we like to talk about leadership development and change management a lot. We have discussed how millennials need different incentives than their older counterparts. We have also discussed the role passion can play in motivating us to move forward. I agree with all of these when in my work mindset. I even understand theoretically that the same tools I use and draw on in a professional role can help me achieve resolutions in my personal life. But that’s just it, its just theory, and New Year resolutions take practice and practical application, something I’m not used to doing all by myself. But maybe that’s OK! Now there is something for me, the theoretical goal-setter, that might even turn me into a New Year resolution convert.
Neil Levy of Independent magazine wrote a piece with tips on how to be more successful with New Year resolutions. All of his tips are excellent, but I’m especially excited about the concept of using Construal Level Theory in goal setting scenarios. The basic idea of the development scheme is that the details of a goal are less important than the abstracted pattern of behaviour you desire. Levy writes, “construing things in more abstract terms tends to facilitate more rational thought and behaviour, possibly because it makes more salient the reasons why we want to exercise self-control in the first place.” I’m great at thinking abstractly, and I love patterns. And so maybe instead of using implementation intentions (or consistent detailed daily cues) to remind myself to exercise or eat right, I can think of these goals at a high level. Instead of making a goal to wake up and exercise at a certain time each morning, I can try to view all activity in my day as a way to increase my overall fitness. And instead of dealing with each processed junk food item I encounter as a unique ball of concrete delicious details, I can remind myself of the overall pattern of nutrition I want to follow. I’ll give it a go and let you know how it works out.
By applying Construal Level Theory to my personal New Year resolutions I realize that this concept can also really help teams achieve leadership development and change management goals. Ryan and Robert Quinn write in the Harvard Business Review that leadership development and change management should be addressed together and not as separate initiatives. His point being that if managers can effectively deal with change management issues, they are already engaging in leadership development since a key part of leadership is enabling change. He writes “[c]ultural changes cannot happen without leadership, and efforts to change culture are the crucible in which leadership is developed.” As team leaders focus on high level change management initiatives, according to construal level theory, they aren’t focusing on the details of what it means to be a leader, but they are developing the behaviour patterns and high level skills needed to be successful down the road. How would change management and leadership development be affected by construal level theory at your organization?