The 4 R’s of Executing Change

The new, bold vision is revealed with dramatic fanfare. This year, the CEO boasts, we will reach new heights, delight customers, improve profits, and preserve the environment. The newcomers in the room feel a sense of excitement and relish the vivid picture of success, but you just roll your eyes and sulk back to your desk.

You’ve heard this kind of hype before and know that these proclamations of change rarely amount to anything more than executive blabber. If you have to suffer through one more empty-promise platitude, you may lose it. Your cynicism is justified, having seen dozens of failed change initiatives over the years.

Unfortunately, most well-intentioned efforts quickly loose steam when the daily grind kicks back in. The problem at hand may not be with the vision at all, but with the system (or lack thereof) of executing the dream. In grade school, teachers drilled the “4 R’s” into your growing mind. Now there’s a new set of 4 R’s, specifically designed to help you actually effectuate the change you seek:

Reinforcements: Issuing a directive rarely drives meaningful change. If you want to change the way you or your team thinks and behaves, the message has to be reinforced constantly. Both the need for change and the new concept must be top-of-mind for it to stick. Reinforcements can take the form of weekly checkpoints, signs around the office, screen-savers, daily emails, team rallies, guest speakers, or printed reminders. The key point is that the new message must land with high frequency if you want it to sink in.

Rituals: If the change effort is to improve performance throughout the sales team, doing sales drills every morning at 8 a.m. may be a productive ritual to launch. Rituals help build muscle memory. Over time, these rituals become habit, requiring far less effort to enact the desired change.

Rewards: As the change you seek comes to life, reward yourself or those around you to further push toward permanence. Public recognition, contests, spot bonuses, extra time off, or fun experiences can all be tools to celebrate — and fortify — progress.

Refinements: To fully realize your vision, tweaks and adaptations will likely be required. Even detailed architectural plans require changes in the field. Establish a rhythmic cadence to review progress, measure results, and adapt to changing circumstances. Small, regular refinements will help boost your ability to ultimately reach your desired outcome.

Change is hard, and getting it to stick is even harder. But in these challenging times, we don’t have the luxury to sit still. To enjoy lasting, meaningful change in your company, career, or community, embrace the 4 R’s of change. When you increase confidence in execution, the big ideas become exciting again and you’ll regain your lost enthusiasm. That bold new vision is possible. It’s time to embrace a system to grasp it.