Making Change Stick: Initiative, Discipline and Momentum

Published: March 23, 2021

The biggest enemy of change is science. Homeostasis is the scientific explanation of why living things devote their energy to staying the same. When external threats occur, the ecosystem organizes around protecting the status quo. This is why it is so hard to establish new habits. This is why it is so difficult to change a workplace culture.

As individuals, we all know what to do to be healthier. Eat smart, exercise more and reduce the toxins we put in our bodies. With teams, the gauntlet is more challenging since everyone has to agree on the same goal. There are many paths to the same destination but you can’t harness that diversity if the vision isn’t shared. Unless the direction is clear, expenditure of energy is counterproductive. The ‘herding cats’ analogy comes to mind.

Insight and action are different animals. Knowing what to do requires different competencies than doing it. Initiative, discipline and momentum are the key competencies of action. Moving from understanding to execution takes a commitment to continuously fight off the powers of homeostasis. The universe wants you to resist change and will serve up many opportunities to give up on your resolve.

Initiative gets you started. Taking action shifts the team away from the planning mode and into a tactical mandate. All of the anxiety that previously served the ‘ready, aim…’ phase gets converted to fuel for the ‘fire!’ phase. We all know how frustrating (yet safe) the ‘ready aim, aim, aim, aim…’ phase can be. Initiative helps you depart from the safety of planning and endure the risk of making change.

Discipline keeps you on task. This is where the team works on building new muscle memory (repetition, repetition, repetition). It may not require the proverbial 10,000 repetitions, but enough to establish the foundation for a new normal. At the beginning of the action, new movement feels unnatural and beckons us to return to old ways. Over time, the awkwardness disappears and the benefits of the change start to show themselves.

Momentum locks in the change. It thumbs its nose at homeostasis and declares the change as the norm of the future. All of the forces of nature come to the team’s aid to secure the transition. The bridge between current state and desired state is officially built. Homeostasis is now assigned to protect the new reality. Phew!

There are important lessons to be learned by overcoming resistance. The initiative lesson is that the stress of anticipation dissipates whenever insight is converted to action. The discipline lesson is that establishing new habits creates the structure we need to stay true to our vision. The momentum lesson is that the forces of nature are there to help you if and when you let them. If we work together to move insight to action, we have the power to solve even the most stubborn problems.

Photo of Steve Ritter, the co-founder of The Center for Team Excellence

Steve Ritter

Steve Ritter is an internationally recognized expert on team dynamics whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and many educational organizations. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst College where he earned the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Steve is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources at Leaders Bank, named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2006 and winner of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2010. Steve provides ongoing workplace culture consultation to many thriving companies including Kraft Foods, Advocate Health Care, Kellogg's, the Chicago White Sox, AthletiCo, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.