Leaders – here’s how ‘behaviour change’ works (2 step process)

| 17 March 2023

Many managers or leaders struggle to agree goals with their team members around ‘behaviour change’ or interpersonal/people/soft skills’.

We might say something like ‘I’d like you to be more proactive’ or ‘more of a team player’ or ‘more assertive’.

But these statements are way too vague and open to interpretation. So, we get more and more frustrated when nothing much changes.

Let’s get rid of the behaviour change ambiguity with my two-step process. 

Here’s an example:

Let’s say you want Sue to improve her communication skills.

Step One

Ask yourself: What’s the impact of Sue’s communication skills on you or others?

Say it out loud or write it down as if you were telling a story or talking to a friend.

You might say:

‘Sue’s great and really good at what she does but she’ll never use two words when twenty will do. She’s unprepared a lot of the time and she waffles so we get confused and lose interest. She seems completely unaware that people are looking at their watches and switching off when she talks. She wants a promotion – and although her skills are great, she doesn’t have the impact that she could.’

Step Two

Focus on the behaviour change you want for Sue – not what you don’t want. Here are some examples – and notice I’ve made them crystal clear.

  • I want Sue to prepare for the monthly meeting with no more than six bullet points outlining the key points she wants to raise.
  • I want Sue to check the team’s understanding at least four times in the meeting by asking an open question such as ‘Paul, how does what I’m saying impact on the xyz project?’
  • I want Sue to speak for no more than 2 minutes before pausing or asking a question. Or asking someone else for their comments.

You could argue that these are too prescriptive or too directive.

But in this case, they’re a great way of getting Sue started. (She can build on these further down the line).

You can of course adopt a more non-directive approach. Ask Sue to come up with her own solutions or ideas for improving her communication. She may have an inkling that something’s not working. 

And you will of course ask her how you can help and what feedback she would like.

Sue is much more likely to grow her impact and gravitas. She stands much more chance of getting that promotion.  Much better than if you’d just asked her to ‘improve her communication skills’.

This process works like a dream when we’re focusing on behaviour change at work.

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