Whether you’re a leader working with a team of two or fifty, change is a known constant in leadership. Knowing how and when to make change is essential when spearheading a rebrand, introducing a product, or architecting a new process.
As changemakers and coaches, we understand the difficulty of knowing the “right time” to introduce change.
There’s some thought in the fields of research and psychology on how change is done constructively. Daniel Pink in his recent book “When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing” unlocks a few secrets:
“There is a phenomenon discovered by three researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, known as the Fresh Start Effect. What it shows is that we are more likely to engage in behavior change at an individual level on certain dates. For example, you're better off starting a change on a Monday rather than a Thursday. You're better off doing it on the first of the month rather than the 13th of a month. You're better off doing it the day after a federal holiday than the day before a federal holiday.”
Change must have appropriate markers, something Pink calls “temporal landmarks” to anchor its significance and to motivate others to stick with the game plan.
For basketball players, change is crucial and even noticeable after the halftime break when a team shifts into second gear. For graduate students, it’s halfway through the week before a test that the books come out. The science of motivation shows that change isn’t everything, but there are timing factors in play that can help make your desired changes more successful.
As a leader or manager, you might be wondering about the perfect time to make a big, impactful announcement.
The answer isn't an exact science, but saving big changes for times after an employee’s vacation or any other long break will help. Think of when a team member is most likely to retain information. If it’s bad news, presenting this at the beginning of the day can take up a lot of mental real estate for your staff. Change announcements that will bring team morale down are best saved for the end of the day. However, if it’s a brand new project or initiative that requires fresh creative energy, then holding a meeting at the beginning of the day is helpful to your staff.
Another interesting finding of Pink’s is that a manager’s response time to staff emails was the single greatest predictor of how a person feels about their boss. The longer the response time, the more tension in the relationship due to uncertainty bred by delayed communication.
The timing of announcements matters, especially as Pink found that midpoints can be harnessed for more effective endings. He also noted that leaders stuck on past examples of success who don’t make room for the present can actually drag a team down.
I’m sure many of us can think of times when coaches or bosses reminded us of a past example of success, whether from their own life or that of more successful teams, that felt like an unfair comparison. Reveling in the glory days every once in awhile is normal, but when leaders create an idol of past success, this stifles a team’s motivation to conquer new mountains.
As leaders, we invest so much energy in deciding how we will change our teams, our organizations, or the world with our products that we forget to consider right timing.
But when we do, it makes all the difference in our client’s lives and spheres of influence.
To your excellence in choosing the best time for change,