Making Change: Structure, Choices, and Doing

We can all feel stuck at times, especially when we are struggling to get traction on important goals for developmental change that we believe will make a real difference in our life and career. I’d like to address three simple and familiar levers of personal change. They might be worth reconsidering.

The Role of Structure in Change

Structure can serve a vital cueing function. For example, our goal may be to take charge of at least part of our schedule rather than letting others completely dictate the use of our time. In order to do that we may need to prefill certain segments of our Outlook calendar as recurring “coordination time.” We may also need to create a 5-minute buffer between meetings to allow ourselves time to mentally transition and prepare. As you know, smart phones and watches can be programmed to notify us, in vibration mode, of the remaining time so we can finish our business and move on. It need not be disruptive.

We can also treat structure as boundary-setting. For example, we may wish to consider our role and contributions in the meetings of others that we are regularly scheduled to attend. Perhaps there is a need to clarify expectations and to validate that our presence (rather than that of someone else) is truly required. Maybe it is a meeting we can participate in periodically rather than always. The effect of these actions is to become more discriminating and assert control without alienating or offending others.

Asserting this kind of change may seem easy or difficult depending upon the person and the culture in which she or he operates. A skilled approach to communicating these changes may become a topic for training. And as with all developmental change, it may be prudent to take a gradual approach to experimenting with such self-structured change. All of these are considerations that define the structure that guides your initiation of developmental action. It will bolster your confidence and readiness.

Finally, this kind of structural change should be targeted based upon a thoughtful assessment of you and your situation. Why? Because change goals should be aligned with the real-world context of your role and work environment. Moreover, if these changes are intended to yield improvements in the way you feel, function, and perform, there will usually be ways to observe (“measure”) the impact of the change. Perhaps you’d even like to be able to marshal this evidence to demonstrate the efficacy of your adaptive development efforts to others.

Choices Liberate and Empower Us

Of course, any goal you set can be operationalized in the form of multiple objectives, each with their action strategies. Therefore, there options for action can be numerous. If, for example, an objective is to increase the quality and impact of direct communications with clients in order to identify opportunities and develop more business, there may be several activities that support the strategy. The structure we create with goals, objectives, and plans should stimulate and energize us.

Not only is it smart to pursue multiple avenues of action, it may be easier and more effective to approach them in a certain sequence. For example, some joint client meetings (assuming you are in a functional staff role) is a good way to get some initial exposure to the client situation. This may inform and focus your subsequent actions. It may also boost your confidence and motivation to act. There may be data gained across client meetings that can be used to contribute in future meetings.

The idea of choices is to provide yourself with options for action and to reinforce your sense of agency in the process. You’ll discover what you most enjoy and how you can be most effective in this area of your role. That’s right, I specify “enjoy” as a criterion. Why? Because we usually find that our areas of greatest interest and effectiveness overlap. These are our strengths, and we naturally enjoy using our strengths, don’t we?.

Doing is about Getting in the Game  

Nothing happens (i.e., business outcomes) until we do something. So, if you've based your guiding structure on a sound assessment, and if you have generated a set of action strategies that are aligned with your goals and objectives, you are ready to start experimenting.

You’ve probably heard the expression, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” What this implies (and what’s been proven in research) is that perfectionism is maladaptive. It can indicate an obsessive concern with getting everything right. Why? Presumably, because something really terrible is going to happen if our actions do not work exactly as planned. The adaptive (versus maladaptive) assumption is that of course things may work out differently in practice, so let’s have at it and learn.

Such maladaptive tendencies can manifest in many ways, but one sure indicator is your anxiety. So, rather than dismissing or suppressing your concerns, query them: “What am I worried about? Why? What am I afraid might happen?” Doing this with a good listener can be insightful and productive. It enables you to think out loud and gain perspective. Acting on this more rational perspective, and using the skills and strategies you’ve identified, you'll discover that the risks are smaller and the learning is greater than you might have expected. 

Contact Information:

As always, we're happy to discuss any questions you may have about how the topic in this blog might be relevant to you and others in your organization, and your ways of being helpful to them. Contact me by phone at 401.885.1631 or by email at