The road to change

road trip

In honor of Willie Nelson’s 81st birthday today, here is a quote from the great song writer and troubadour. Not very helpful in leading change but worth a smile!

I believe that all roads lead to the same place – and that is wherever all roads lead to.

In contrast to Willie’s philosophy, I am actually planning a road trip for later in May to the West Point Academy in New York to attend the 2014 graduation of a cadet. We will cover over 2500 miles and the roads we choose and the decisions we make during the trip will be very important to the success of our journey!

Recent work in neuroscience and leadership by David Rock and Elliot Berkman suggests that setting goals is much more like planning for and going on a long road trip than a one-time activity. For goals to be effective and lead to change they need to engage two parts of our brain, why the goal is important and how it will be accomplished. Yet our brains are not capable of engaging both at the same time. This means that our goals need integrate both aspects and make it easy for people to move back and forth when they get stuck during change initiatives.

Berkman and Rock use the acronym AIM and the metaphor of a road trip to help leaders set effective goals for change in the workplace. They propose an integrative model of goals and goal pursuit consisting of:

  • Antecedents – the pre-trip planning. Make the goal memorable, motivating and social.
  • Integration – the “rubber hitting the road.” Your goals need to make it easy to shift between the why and the how. Focus on the mile by mile choices, trade-offs and decisions that need to be made during long trips. Provide insight on how to step back in the moment and stay focused on the long run. In other words, stay focused on the road ahead and not the potholes!
  • Maintenance – using cruise control to stay on track. Include goals that provide rewards and build habits so that the change becomes “hard-wired.”

When I return from West Point I will let you know how well we did with the integration and maintenance goal process. Hopefully my three travel companions and I will make it to the graduation safely, on-time and still speaking with each other!

Todd Thorsgaard



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