Business Strategy: How to change what “cannot” be changed?

Trying to Change Others’ Behavior.Fit2

Management (and life) would be so much better if we could make people change when we needed them to. Business execution and getting the results we want would be so much easier if people just did what we told them. But it doesn’t work that way. I’ve tried changing how other people behave. Most of the time it was unsuccessful. On those rare occasions that it worked, it didn’t last. Often it was counterproductive and a waste of time.

And this is the irony of leadership. As leaders we’re expected to execute plans and deliver results with a group of people, things that cannot be accomplished alone. Does this mean they have to change who they are? Maybe. Here are a few suggestions for leadership tools and techniques that work.

Performance Reviews

Our greatest leverage in shaping behavior around us is who we choose to hire, and where we choose to put them to work, to begin with. Here’s one suggestion: conduct performance reviews not for the benefit of the employee but for the benefit of the company. They answer essential questions like who is ready to be promoted. Who is almost ready and what do they need to get there. Who isn’t ready. Who is in the right job, and who isn’t.

Giving staff feedback based on our evaluation isn’t for their benefit.  It’s a nice-to-have side-effect of getting a good validation of our evaluation. Then we can step back and look at the team, department, division, or company as a whole and actually “manage” the staff you have – put the right people in the places you need the most, promote the ones that are ready, hire for the positions that need somebody new.

Once you’ve done everything you can to coach, mentor, and train someone to do the job they were hired for, and the results still aren’t there, then you need to consider if there’s another position, a position of lessor responsibility, or no place inside the company and making them available to industry.

As a manager, your job is not to change people to execute perfectly (like the way you would do it), whatever the job is. Your job is to discover the strengths of the people working for you and figure out how to put those strengths to their best use. If you don’t have the right people in the right roles, then fix that.

Positive Reinforcement

Negative feedback shuts down behavior quickly. Positive feedback shapes behavior over time. Think about punishing a dog for not coming when it’s been called. Pretty soon the dog associates getting yelled at with coming to where they’re asked, and they run the other way. The problem with positive feedback is that it takes a time, consistent application, and patience. This isn’t always compatible with the day-to-day urgency some of us work in.

Negative Feedback

Frequent, friendly focused and actionable feedback is one of those simple things that outstanding managers do well. Negative or constructive feedback is only one specialized tool in the manager’s toolbox. But it should only be used when needed, for the right reasons, and in the right way.

Negative feedback is most effective when it is used with “A” Players or high performers. High performers invite, accept, and act on criticism. They’re good and want to get better. Using negative feedback on a consistently under-performing staff member is like using a hammer to remove a screw. You’re just going to get frustrated and end up with dents in your work. Instead, consider catching them doing something right and build on that.

How to Change What Cannot Be Changed

So there are three tools we can use to manage our teams. Positive feedback (to shape behavior over time), negative feedback (improve the performance of your high performers), and staffing (deliberately choosing whom you work with).

Remember to use the right tool for the right job. Now go execute and get results!

Article by Bernie May

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