Is every change a change in behaviour?

I painted the walls of my living room light blue-green. The room has changed. But my behaviour has not. I don’t sit in my corner of the sofa more often or differently. It just feels nicer. 

There are eleven new solar panels on my roof. The energy bill is lower and it feels good to be more self-sufficient. That has changed. But my behaviour hasn’t. The panels do their work without me having to do anything. 

So the answer to the question seems clear to me: not every change is a change in behaviour. 

 Nice and short blog, Annemarie!  

Well, no. Because that is not the end of the matter.  

My living room walls and solar panels are two black swans that prove that not every swan is white. While, as an organisational change agent, you have to keep an eye on the large group of white swans. 

You are being very cryptic now 

What I want to say is that although not every organisational change is a behavioural change, the majority is. And it is a problem if you overlook this: 

You tilt the organisational structure, but don’t discuss how you can look for each other in that new structure to work together. You get a new structure with old behaviour. 

You introduce a new way of working that looks efficient on paper, but that doesn’t connect to what motivates people at work. You get avoidance behaviour. 

You make statements that are so normative that everyone feels they shouldn’t dare not to go along with them. You get empty behaviour.  

So even if you think that your change assignment is not a change in behaviour, you will eventually see it reflected in behaviour. But then in the variant you do not want. 

So what then? 

By acknowledging that your change assignment is a behavioural change, you can tailor the content and process of the change to this. You open up the conversation about what you want to achieve, how your behaviour affects this and how you can stimulate different behaviour in each other. And you design the change process in such a way that intrinsic motivation can arise. There is a whole field of study available to you on how to go about this in your situation: change management. 

Then you get full behaviour. You do it and keep doing it. Because you understand it, can and want to. 


Not every change is a change in behaviour. But it is realistic to assume that your change assignment is. 

Annemarie Mars, January 2022

Photocredits: “Two Black Swans on the Lake+” by Sheba is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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