Monday, October 31, 2011

Teaching New Behaviors

Margaret J. Wheatley in her delightful book, Finding Our Way: Leadership for an Uncertain Time. (Berrett-Koehler, 2005), wrote the following:

“Life seeks organization, but it uses messes to get there. Organization is a process, not a structure.”

“If we deny people’s great need for relationships, for systems of support, for work that connects to a larger purpose, they push back.”

“All organizing efforts begin with an intent, a belief that something more is possible now that the group is together.”

When it comes to teaching people new behaviors and with the above in mind, we as leaders first need to recognize that our behavior is influenced by our identity, the information we receive or do not receive, and the health of our relationships. Second, we must accept the fact that we do not see “reality.” Instead, we each create our own interpretation of what is real. As Tom Asacker in his book, Sandbox Wisdom: Revolutionize Your Brand With the Genius of Childhood, Eastside Publishing, 2000, wrote “Perception is truth.” Third, as every living system is free to choose whether it changes, and every systems contains it’s own solutions, we must remember that every person is free to choose whether they change, and every person contains their own solutions.

Ken Blanchard in his book, Leading At a Higher Level: Blanchard on Leadership and Creating High Performing Organizations, Prentice Hall, 2006, explains that in order to get new behaviors to stick, those involved need to achieve tangible results as quickly as possible. Teresa M. Amabile and Steve J. Kramer in their article called “The Power of Small Wins”, Harvard Business Review, May 2011, summarized a decade of research which included a deep analysis of daily diaries kept by teammates on creative projects. The two authors came up with the Progress Principle, namely “Of all things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work.... And the more frequently people experience that sense of

progress, the more likely they are to be creatively productive in the long run.” Frederick Herzberg, in a 1968 issue of the Harvard Business Review and author of the article, “One More Time: How do You Motivate Employees?”, wrote “People are most satisfied with their jobs (and therefore most motivated) when those jobs give them the opportunity to experience achievement.”

Teresa M. Amabile and Steve J. Kramer in the aforementioned article further explain this in the following manner. “The best thing they [managers] can do for their people is provide the catalysts and nourishers that allow projects to move forward while removing the obstacles and toxins that result in setbacks.” Catalysts are actions that support work and nourishers are acts of interpersonal support such as respect, recognition, encouragement, emotional comfort, and opportunities for affiliation. Still, we must remember that “The key to motivating performance is supporting progress in meaningful work.”

When I am asked how to teach new behaviors, I often reference the following classic answers:

- hire the right people

- initiate necessary turnover

- be patient and persistent

- show how the change/new behaviors are working and why the old ways did not work

- measure and support the sustained performance

My more recent answer may seem simplistic but it is more powerful, i.e ensure that people in leadership positions will support and model the new behaviors themselves. As Max De Pree reminds us in his book, Leadership is an Art, Dell Publishing, 1990: “The signs of outstanding leadership are found among the followers.”

The first step in this process is to support, notice and validate all new behaviors. Simultaneously, role model them in a disciplined manner. However, remember that behavioral change comes with constraints. Ronald Heifetz, Alexander Grashow, and Marty Linsky in their book, The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World, Harvard Business Press, 2009, explain that there are five major constraints:

- loyalties to people who may not believe you are doing the right thing

- fear of incompetence

- uncertainty about taking the right path

- fear of loss

- not having the stomach for the hard parts of the journey

Understanding these constraints is part of the process of teaching people new behaviors.

Second, Ken Blanchard in his aforementioned book reminds us not to equate behavioral change with cultural change. He explains that culture is an integrated pattern of shared knowledge, beliefs and behaviors translated into a collective commitment toward shared values, goals, and practices/systems. Behavior, on the other hand, is a way an individual or group behaves and responds to it’s environment. As Blanchard explains, until we get the aggregate number of people within a group to change, the culture does not change.

One solution, notes Ronald Heifetz, Alexander Grashow, and Marty Linsky in their aforementioned book, is to grow your own personal network outside of the system you are trying to change. This happens when we talk regularly with confidants, people outside the environment in which you are trying to lead adaptive change, who are invested in you, not the issues you are addressing. This can satisfy your hungers outside of work, e.g. support or perspective, so your opponents cannot use them to take you out of the game. When we anchor ourself in multiple communities, we continue to gain perspective.

In short, teaching behaviors is important and complex. Always start with yourself first.

Geery Howe, M.A.Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer inLeadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational ChangeMorning Star Associates319 - 643 - 2257

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