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The Science Behind Behavior Change

By Al Curnow, Vice President

At High Performing Culture, we understand that the creation and development of an extraordinary culture requires a couple of key ingredients.  We must first define those behaviors (Fundamentals), that if practiced regularly by our team members, would make us stand out above our competitors.  Then, we must figure out ways to make these behaviors stick through continual coaching and teaching. We’ve seen this process work with close to 300 organizations across the country.  An important element of effective coaching and teaching, however, is understanding just how behavior change really works.  It would be easy if we could just tell someone what we wanted and presto!, they immediately started to behave that way. Unfortunately, that’s not how real behavior change works.

A fortuitous cup of coffee

A few weeks ago, I happened to spot an article about an internationally recognized firm,  ProChange Behavior Systems.  The piece highlighted some of the work the firm was doing around behavior change. The firm consists of a group of incredibly bright PHD’s. They provide scientifically validated evidence-based tools, technology and research to firms and organizations looking to promote behavior change.   Put more simply, they have figured out the science behind how intentional behavior change really works and they help clients implement tools to successfully drive these changes.  Their founder, Dr. James Prochaska, helped discover what became one of the world’s most respected and widely used models that defines the process all successful behavior change follows.  The model is called The Transtheoretical Model (more on it in a bit).  Dr. Prochaska happens to have taught at the University of Rhode Island (my alma mater- go Rams!).  The firm happens to be headquartered right here in little Rhode Island.  This is important to this story because once I learned that the firm was just down the road, I invited their co-President, Sara Johnson for coffee.  I wanted to learn more.    Sara accepted my offer.

How does behavior change really work?

This was the burning question behind my interest in Sara’s organization. Sara was kind enough to provide a thorough explanation of The Transtheoretical Model.  She did so in very simple and clear terms (that even I could understand).  The model defines six critical stages that anyone successful in changing a behavior must pass through.  Here are the stages with very brief explanations of each:

The Six Stages of Change

  1. In this stage we’re unaware that there is even a need for behavior change (let alone a solution).
  2. Here, we know we need to change, and we may even know what/how to do it, but we haven’t yet.  Sometimes we feel stuck.
  3. In this stage, most people are ready to take action soon (within the next few weeks).
  4. This is the most overt stage of behavior modification, where we are actually taking action and beginning to incorporate these behaviors into our everyday lives.
  5. One of the more challenging stages.  This is where one must work to consolidate the gains made in the previous stages.
  6. The ultimate goal.  This is when and where the behavior change is internalized and becomes permanent.  It becomes, “just how we do things.”

Why Is This Important For Our Culture?

Having an awareness of the process involved in any successful behavioral change is tremendously important for anyone responsible for managing, coaching, or teaching team members. To expect someone to modify a behavior they have practiced most of their lives with the flip of a switch is unrealistic.    Meaningful and permanent change requires time, repetition, and continual coaching and teaching.   Having a deeper understanding of the process behind behavioral change can only help in that effort.

If you’d like more information on ProChange, I’d suggest either going to their website, which is  Or, pick up a copy of Dr. Prochaska’s book, Changing For Good.

If you’d like to learn more about how the Fundamentals System™ can help you to build a high-performing culture, click the button below.  Or join us at our annual Culture Summit in October.

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