Read on – this is a useful development tool for us all.
We know it’s boring – the annual boom and bust of resolutions and failure – so boring in fact that we don’t even bother to make resolutions in the first place. Who needs some crazy annual custom? What’s wrong with any time of year? Well of course there’s nothing wrong with anytime, but generally if we are going to make some lasting change there has to be a significant prompt. And that’s exactly what a 360° feedback is. We can learn so much about ourselves, some of which we might not like or some of which drives us to do even better. But even if we decide to make change and develop a real intention to change, there is still the challenge of implementation. Hmm…..the doing part. Sometimes the change involves learning new skills or competencies. Sometimes it involves making changes to behaviour in the heat of everyday organisational life. These challenges can be particularly great given;
- the limited amount of mental capacity available for self-regulation,
- how easy it is for this processing to get distracted,
- the mass and momentum of the subconscious habit part of the brain.
The trick is to have….
Implementation Intentions. In our last blog “Can I give you some feedback – the neuroscience that will help in your 360 degree programmes” we cited Dixon, Rock and Ochsner (2010). In their paper they quote research by Gollwitzer (1993) where he states – holding implementation intentions is more effective than holding goal intentions. For example intentions such as,
“If I find myself distracted by the details, I will ignore the distraction and take time out to think about the bigger picture”,
are more effective than intentions such as
“I am going to increase my focus on the big picture”.
So that’s why our New Year’s resolutions to lose weight or go to the gym usually fail?
Dixon et al (2010) found the “if-then” (what I will do) format for the intention to be more effective in stimulating new and intended behaviour. Gollwitzer found the if-then intention to be effective, even if the individual doesn’t remember that they were supposed to be doing a self-regulatory act. He found that once the “if” situation occurred the response was immediate. He refers to this process as “instant habit”. The act of making the if-then statement seems to help the brain automatically trigger the control when it needs to trigger it. It also seems to remove the burden of needing to continuously monitor their behaviour to check whether they are supposed to be regulating. Talent Innovations is currently testing this in our updated version of Inspiring Leader.
Difficult goals work better using this method
Research also suggests that implementation intentions have greater impact for difficult goals. There is a suggestion that for difficult goals, implementation intentions may not have any impact unless they specify what action needs to be taken. Other researchers have shown implementation intentions to work better if the “then” part of the statement is action orientated (I will change my approach), rather than reflection-orientated (I will think about my approach). This is perhaps somewhat obvious as a thought may be less impactful on the external environment than an action.
When emotions get in the way
Implementation intentions may work even if the cues for their implementation are internal rather than external too: for instance, desires, fears or other feelings. “If I fear anxiety about leading a workshop, I will remember to relax my mind and body”. These implementation intentions have been found to work across a variety of external environments. These kinds of interventions avoid the common plan of living with or minimising the cycle that caused the problem (for instance, “When I get stressed, I freeze up, so I need to figure out how to avoid getting stressed”). The more effective alternative is to become aware of the trigger of the down cycle. Once found and understood it can be used as a trigger to initiate a different cycle. Using internal states as an implementation intention trigger in this way can also eliminate the need to identify, anticipate and program for multiple external cues.
A picture is worth….
We find that adding mental imagery to implementation intentions has an impact on goal success. The paper suggests that imagining an action is “equivalent or similar to carrying it out from a neurological perspective as it activates the same areas of the brain”, as a possible explanation. A parallel strategy is to remember actions that have been successful in the past. Remembering past actions involves accessing retrospective memory and this can involve less effort than formulating intentions using future thinking.
To make the most of your 360 degree feedback development intentions…
The best development plans include a combination of all of these aspects i.e. to construct an if-then statement and then review when similar efforts have been made in the past and what caused their success. This might inform and refine the if-then statement. Once formed, the individual might be encouraged to imagine him or herself executing the if-then statement. Some of the latest research suggests that how good people are at performing these types of if-then interventions in the very next moments they encounter the situation after their 360 predicts how successful they are going to be over a subsequent longer period.
However we or you go about it, a development plan which contains implementation intentions, goals, past based strategies, and visualisations is a useful development tool.
To get the full story read our Whitepaper “Understanding how 360 degree feedback can be enhanced by neuroscience” now.
Dixon, P., Rock, D. and Ochsner, K. (2010). Turn the 360 around. NeuroLeadership Journal Issue 3
Gollwitzer, P. M. (1993). Goal achievement: The role of intentions. European Journal of Social Psychology, 4, 141-185