Is it really true that something as simple as taking small steps on a regular basis can lead to long lasting change and dynamic results? It’s a question I’m asked all the time by my executive coaching clients. Can it really be so easy? And the answer is yes, depending on what goal you’re trying to achieve. Let me try and explain how, and why.
I’ve been blessed to develop the skills and competencies to work as a career strategist. But the irony is that I didn’t realise this until last year. Up until that point, and for the previous ten years, I spent some small part of every single day offering career advice and guidance to executives. Little did I know then that every small act of service was building up day in, and day out, to the work I do now on a consistent and regular basis. As I reflect on my journey and how I got here, I was reminded of a fantastic book I read in my early 20’s, more than two decades ago, One Small Step Can Change Your Life by Dr. Robert Maurer.
The book outlines the Japanese technique of Kaizen – achieving great and lasting success through small, steady steps. As you may have guessed, the book itself is physically small and easy to read with principles and strategies that are simple to grasp. I picked it up again recently and was reminded of the message throughout: you too can change your life by taking small steps to affect long lasting change. And this is the key. It’s not about big, swooping, fearful change that leads to quick wins. Oh no, this is about making small incremental changes, so small that we hardly notice them, so small that we cannot fail. We develop new habits that over time result in lasting change. And if I’m honest, I don’t know anyone who hasn’t got something they’re trying to change in their life.
So what have you been trying to improve in your life or organisation that’s leading to frustration or a feeling of being stuck? I don’t know one person who has every area of their life sorted. Have you ever noticed that while one aspect of your life can be going really well, e.g. your personal relationship, you can find that another area is a struggle? Perhaps your career is going great and you’re loving your work. It’s interesting and challenging and involves meeting lots of interesting people and visiting lots of great places, but its impacting negatively on your health and fitness. Is it really possible to have it all or have we been peddled an unrealistic dream? Should we simply accept that no one is ever really truly happy with everything in their life?
It’s a bit defeatist, in my opinion, to take such an approach and not even try. As we all know too well, there is no such thing as perfection. But we can always strive to make small changes and improvements to better our lives and the lives of those around us. I wanted to share some insights from this fantastic, little book to help you achieve those goals that seem just too big to tackle or that you keep putting off. And not only is this relevant to your personal life, but it’s also incredibly helpful if you’re a business leader and trying to improve your teams performance, increase staff morale or ensure a positive outcome as the business goes through some significant transformation. All of the scientific evidence confirms that this approach really does work.
Perhaps you’ve noticed that your brain doesn’t like big questions and so we often avoid confronting those challenges that we know we need to resolve. If I was to ask any kid what do they want to be when they grow up, more often than not they can tell me instantly. My daughter, for example wants to be an inventor and an actress. We all know a young boy either a son, nephew or neighbour who want to play for their favourite team. While kids don’t get overwhelmed by that question it’s often the opposite for adults who are struggling to find happiness in their work. I wonder what did you want to be when you grew up and how close did you get to achieving your dream? If you’re reading this I guess not so close. Not many of us wanted to be entrepreneurs, business leaders, VP’s or Directors. Let’s be honest, we didn’t even know what those jobs involved. And for the majority of our kids, the careers that they will end up in don’t even exist yet.
I never ask my clients “what do you want to be when you grow up?” as much as I would like to. If I do it might be a bit tongue in cheek, but honestly, it’s simply too overwhelming for adults to answer. Our brains go into panic or flight mode. We shut down our ability to be creative and end up feeling a sense of panic. What the hell do I want ? I honestly don’t know. So to avoid this reaction in clients I take a different approach. I ask small questions that our brains are happy to answer using our inbuilt ability to think creatively. Begin by asking yourself small questions, for example: what one, small thing can I do today to help me feel happier in work? Or, what small action can I take today to be a bit healthier? Or what one small thing can I do today to help me find a new role? Asking small questions will enable you to find easy to implement solutions which you can action daily. As I say so often to my clients, if you can’t give yourself 10 minutes per day to help you move towards achieving your goals, you seriously need to look at how you structure your day as well as question why you’re giving your time to everyone else? It’s not right.
How can you implement this approach successfully in your organisation? Ask your people, what small change can we make to improve our customers experience? Or, what small step can we take to help us reduce our costs a little? You get the idea. If you encourage your team to come up with small ideas it’s incredibly impactful. People are more inclined to engage with change that appears, at least on the outside, so small that it’s easy to do. Also, if the team have presented the idea themselves they know that it’s possible to implement it, and are therefore more likely to want to achieve a successful outcome. There’s also plenty of evidence, although I’m no HR expert, that the approach to rewarding people in small, meaningful ways on a regular basis, far outweighs the huge rewards paid to a handful of top performers. Encourage everyone to make small steps and make a positive difference, and reward accordingly.
If you commit to taking small steps that seem trivial or even laughable you will overcome obstacles that defeated you before. Slowly, and painlessly, you will develop an appetite for continued success and lay down a permanent new route to change. What will be your first step?
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