Saturday, August 8, 2015

Book Review: Triggers -- simple tools for life-long change

Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts -- Becoming the Person You want to be; Marshall Goldsmith, Crown Business (2015)

What is the most difficult thing for adults to accomplish? According to the author, it is making behavioral change. In his research, he asks the question, “What’s the biggest behavioral change you’ve ever made?” That’s a great question. How would we answer that? Indeed, have we ever made any significant behavioral change as an adult? This engaging book tackles this topic and the business-trendy issue of employee engagement.

When it comes to change, Goldsmith argues we face two problems: ignorance of our own need and ignorance of the power of our environment. He spends the majority of the book on the latter. We can utilize tools such as 360 reviews to address the former.

The value of this book comes in the tools that he provides, mostly in the form of engaging questions which are triggers to combat the hostile environment. As he defines them,”a behavioral trigger is any stimulus that impacts our behavior.” They are not inherently good or bad, they produce a response and that is critical.

Goldsmith suggests that when it comes to engagement we tend to fall into passivity, allowing ourselves to play victim. For example, at work we fill in engagement surveys and expect management to address the lower scores by changing our environment. Instead, Goldsmith urges us to become active, owners of our own engagement. Instead of focusing on what we accomplish each day, which can be thwarted by things outside of our control. Rather, he encourages us to ask ourselves if we did our best. He offers us to tool of daily questions. The primary six he outlines as:

1) Did I do my best to set clear goals?
2) Did I do my best to make progress towards my goals today?
3) Did I do my best to find meaning today?
4) Did I do my best to be happy today?
5) Did I do my best to build positive relationships today?
6) Did I do my best to be fully engaged today?

These questions focus on how well we tried, not on how well we finished. We control our attitude and our focus. The key is asking the questions consistently and grading ourselves honestly. Goldsmith uses a 1-10 scale and tracks answers on a spreadsheet. Moreover, he suggests having someone else ask you the questions at the end of the day to ensure this happens. This can be done without judgment on the part of the questioner, since he (or she) is not vested in the answers. But an objective helper can also help spot trends and perhaps ask challenging questions related to those trends. Finally, Goldsmith suggests we tailor the questions, adding those that are needed. We must focus on where we need help, where we need to change and make progress, not on areas where we are doing fine.

Another tool he gives us are the hourly questions. A natural extension to the daily questions, these focus on the short game not the long game. Here, we focus on our engagement in he coming hour. If we are entering a meeting that is unpleasant or expected to be boring. If we enter with the knowledge that we will ask ourselves a set of tailored questions at the end, setting ourselves a test in other words, we will be better engaged and likely to leave the hour having learned something.

I tried the hourly questions recently when I went to church. I had been a little disengaged recently and so went in knowing I would ask myself two or three questions about my worship engagement. To my surprise, I found myself happier and more worshipful throughout the service. I did it in a work meeting, too, and found the same result. The beauty here, is that you can set whatever questions make sense for that hour, those that will keep you in the moment. And if you write them well, knowing what your triggers are, you will likely try harder to be able to answer them better. It’s not perfect, but it is better than doing nothing and letting entropy and inertia take over.

Goldsmith gives us three of other useful tools here. The first is a set of four “magic moves.” These comprise the quadrumvirate of apologizing, asking for help, having optimism, and asking active questions. Each of these builds positive goodwill with those around us and makes the environment that much safer and easier. The second is an acronym: AIWATT. This stands for “Am I Willing At This Time to make the investment required to make a positive difference on this topic?” It blesses us with a simple cost-effective benefit analysis tool to answer the question of if this battle is worth fighting. If it is not, we put the decision behind us and walk away.

Finally, he recounted a Buddhist parable: that of the empty boat. I won’t repeat it here. But suffice it to capture the moral: “there’s never anyone in the other boat. We are always screaming at an empty vessel. An empty boat isn’t targeting us. And neither are all the people creating the sour notes in the soundtrack of our day.” I have started using this (when I can overcome my impatience) and found it to help me lead a less stressed life. My driving has become a little more relaxed.

This book came recommended highly by Bob Nelson, the author of “Motivating Today’s Employees.” I have enjoyed his books and trusted his judgment. He was not wrong. This is not a panacea. There are no quick fixes. But the tools have proved effective, even in my limited use. Behavioral change is tough.  But only by sticking it out, with the help of tools like these, will we make long-lasting change. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy. You won’t regret it.