Understanding How Critical Behaviours Enable Change

If you want the people around you to change, you need to understand exactly how you want them to perform differently. That applies to both sustainability actions and any other daily activities. To facilitate this, you should identify certain crucial features of their movements; one aspect of which is the critical behaviour.

Encouraging people to do things differently has benefits for the organisation. The greater the number of people who modify their behaviour, the greater the impact. By succeeding with making a change among the majority, a new normal is created. Consequently, the skeptical laggards will eventually follow suit. According to Katzentburg, culture change in an organisation follows behaviour change. The second is tangible, whereas the first is not.

Let’s look at the challenges to achieving this new norm;

  • Establishing ‘buy-in’, (developing an emotional commitment for sustained change)
  • Putting the right structures in place (so that people are able to change)
  • Identifying the critical behaviour patterns which must be adopted
  • Training people so they know what is expected of them
  • Allocating time for change, empowering everyone involved with the appropriate responsibility
  • Incentivising change and rewarding success

Future posts will review other aspects of the process, but here, the focus is on critical behaviour.

What is a Critical Behaviour?

The general aim is to make the transition to a new routine as simple as possible. The critical behaviour is the single point which if altered makes the whole process fall into place. To afford change, identify this key moment and focus efforts here.

Once identified, you can build focus on this crucial moment, redirecting activities towards the positive, now preferred act.  Have you ever heard this phrase?

‘The definition of insanity is doing things the same way as we’ve always done and expecting a different result’

Example of Identifying a Critical Behaviour

In order to source this crucial moment, current activities must be observed and questioned. Some articles point to drilling down by continually questioning ‘Why?’


Let’s take a look at encouraging people to turn their computer off when they leave their desk.
Because as well as the environmental impact of leaving it switched on as it uses power (even in standby mode), there’s a financial cost of that energy to the organisation.
Is there another Why?
Additionally, there is a security benefit in that opportunity to hack is reduced.

Now that we’ve established that we want people to switch off, let’s identify the pivotal moment. That’s when they need reminding to make the choice to actually do so. Is it;

  • At the team meeting when the requirement to switch off is explained
  • When the person logs off and walks away from their desk or
  • As they walk out of the door – with a sign saying ‘Did You Switch Off?’

Hopefully, it’s fairly obvious that the key time to prompt is when they log off. This is point when they should switch off (and not just hit sleep mode) and also turn off the screen.

At the team meeting, intent can be established, but this does not necessarily result in the desired modification. Equally, once they have arrived at the exit, it’s too late. The ideal moment has passed and it’s unlikely they will go back to their desk. The kids need picking up or the bus will be missed.


If you want to know HOW to engage people at this crucial moment, get in touch.

Unconscious Competence

The ultimate goal is to make the new action second nature to one and all. Creating new pathways in the brain so that an employee can ‘toggle from automaticity’ requires repetition 24 times. At this point, the new method will be performed automatically – or with ‘unconscious competence’ – a concept for which I thank Drew Rowlands for introducing me.

Change Habits to Develop a Sustainability Culture in Your Workplace

Developing a culture which brings value to your organisation requires a commitment to a programme. Find out how to choose which behaviours to focus on in order to add value at your workplace. Give me a call or email  to set up an informal chat about how you can get started.

Download my Seven Simple Steps to a Sustainability Culture to see how to structure the transition.



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