The law of Atrophy

Gareth: Alex, we’re just going to talk about the law of atrophy. And this is about skills and behaviour and how they can change over time.

And I guess just, first of all, just a little story, I guess, from a sporting perspective personally. I used to play golf off, a handicap of about twelve, which is not bad. And I know for a fact that if I went to the golf club, now and picked up my clubs and tried to hit a ball, it would be awful. I would hack my way around the course. And there’s a clear and obvious thing there that my skills have diminished over time.

So, I’m just wondering, thinking about that personal sad sporting analogy. How can we apply that to, the business world? And what’s your experience of this with your over twenty years of skills and behaviour change?


Alex: So, Gareth, that’s a really good analogy. And I don’t even want to go anywhere near my golfing prowess compared to your twelve handicap.

But if you think about the business, we’re in, we’re in the business of behavioural change. And what we mean by that is helping people change their behaviour to one which is more helpful in our case,

principally when working with customers. Now one of the challenges with behaviour change is that behaviour changes deep seated if you want it to stick. In other words, it’s not something that’s superficial. It’s not something you just learn at an intellectual level. It’s something that runs quite deep.

And one of the challenges with behaviour change is that if you don’t consciously use that new behaviour that you’ve learned, you’ll lose it. So, if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.

And if you think about the work that we do, the people that pay us to do that work are our clients and they invest significantly to help people change their behaviour through the ones that they are looking for them to use. Now the organization, therefore, is one, investing, but they also have a huge responsibility to make sure that those behaviours are being used. Remembering the most important person in the midst is the person whose behaviour we are looking to change.

So, the person that is there using it every day. And there’s lots of ways that an organization can help that person change and they need to take their responsibility.


Gareth: And it’s interesting, isn’t it? Because, obviously, we do work with lots of clients to help those skills and those behaviour changes. And too often, it’s perhaps just a one and done, we come on a few days and then people go back into the organization.

So, to maintain those skills and to avoid those skills degrading. What will be your one, two, three key tips for organizations to make sure that those skills are maintained over time?


Alex: So, it is interesting. You talk about the one and done approach and, fortunately, we don’t come across that so often anymore because people recognize the need to keep momentum going from a learning perspective. If you think about what helps people continue to focus on a new set of skills, there’s lots of different things. It could be the individual themselves.

It could just be a self-starter and want to go do that. Now, unfortunately, the reality of life is that many people are unable to sustain it over an extended period of time. It could be something to do with the tools, the materials, the online support that they have, the self-serve content that they’re able to draw, and all of that will help as well. The most single important factor in all of this is the leadership of the organization that they’re working for. And what I mean by that is the way that they want to embrace it, but then also expect that change in behaviour and then measure it and reward it so that we’re able to make sure that just becomes part of the everyday.

And in all the nearly thirty years actually Gareth, of experience I have in this field now. The businesses where traction happens, change in behaviour happens, and momentum builds is where the leadership of an organization, one has the vision but then also has the ability to follow through on that vision and support that behaviour change. That’s where we see people transform their capability and then really step up to the kind of level of behaviour shift that we’re looking for.


Gareth: Okay. So, it’s not just about providing tools and almost like some things for people to be able to self-serve. It’s about that leadership, I guess, that creates that culture and I think the key word you said there was also expectation as well.


Alex: Absolutely. Leaders first in an organization need to embrace what we’re looking for. And then that provides that context for everybody else to operate within.


Gareth: Okay. Great stuff, Alex. Thank you.


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