How Do You Get Employees To Change?

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Can you really get employees to change?

For those of us in leadership, the answer to that question had better be a resounding ‘yes’! However, the degree to which we are successful in getting other people to change is certainly a different question altogether!

Research shows that your success in getting employees to change hinges on how you answer one critical question – and the strategies that flow from your answer.

The challenge for many leaders is that (unknowingly) the strategies they employ encourage employees to resist change – rather than embrace it!

Do you celebrate failure?

Often when we conduct our signature LeaderShift Process participants are confused when we ask them if they ‘Celebrate failure to the extent that ongoing learning takes place.’ Their confusion stems from the fact that most high achieving leaders would never consider celebrating failure. Failure is to be avoided at all costs! And yet we know that almost every success we have experienced in life involves learning, and in many cases, mistakes.

While we ultimately do not want to fail, we know there will be small failures along the way in any undertaking. While it may sound strange to you, in order to get another person to change you need to create the expectation of failure – not of the entire change process – but that there will be failure along the way.

This leads us to a fundamental question: How do we (as leaders) approach the change/failure dynamic – and what might we need to do differently to encourage the team we seek to lead to change more consistently and positively? Carol Dweck, professor of psychology at Stanford, has researched this question and finds that there are essentially there two ways that people approach change:

A Fixed Mindset.

This way of looking at the world says that people (ourselves included) don’t really change that much at all.

People who have a ‘fixed mindset’ believe that their abilities – and those of others – are essentially static. In other words, we are good at some things and not as talented in other areas. In this mindset your behavior is a good indication of your natural abilities. This leads to an avoidance of challenges because failure would reflect badly on your true ability level. In this case, negative feedback is seen as a threat – and you definitely don’t want to be seen as trying too hard – just in case you fail. That way if you fail – well – you always have the defense that you didn’t try that hard.

A Growth Mindset.

This way of looking at the world says that people (ourselves included) can and do change all the time.

The ‘growth mindset’ believes that abilities are like ‘muscles’. It’s not that some people are not more talented than others – there is not question that Michael Jordan is a truly talented individual. However, we can and do develop our abilities (and talents) through practice. With a growth mindset you will accept more challenging assignments. You are more likely to accept negative feedback, in fact you may seek it out, because you know that it will eventually make you better.

Can you give me some practical examples?

Once you understand this critical difference in mindset you can start to recognize the ways that we inadvertently reinforce a fixed mindset with others. Here are just a few examples:

Telling our kids ‘You’re so smart!’ or ‘You’re so good at_______’.

Telling employees that they are so good at speaking, communication, or project management etc.

So what can we do differently?

As leaders, we need to start praising the effort rather than the natural skill.

While many leaders will object to this insight – it seems a little too touchy feely to many. Now, I am not saying that we should ignore results. Nor am I saying that we should not hold people accountable to results. To the contrary, what I am suggesting is that while you recognize the results (or lack thereof) you attribute the results to the effort rather than talent.

Let’s use an example to reinforce this point. Consider the performance in a given week of the following two employees:

Employee A: Does all the right things/the right way but gets crappy results. You know this is because the circumstances that particular week just did not line up correctly.

Employee B: Does not do the right things/the right way but gets great results. You know this is because the circumstances that particular week lined up in a way that promoted positive results.

If you answered Employee ‘A’, then you need to consider how you provide feedback and direction to your employees.

In other words – can you celebrate failure to the extent that ongoing learning occurs? Because if you can’t – then you will surround yourself with fixed mindset team members that have already reached the extent of their potential.

And that is not a future that I would wish for you!

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LeaderShift is a complete leadership development system that has everything you need to hire, develop, and retain a highly effective team. All for the fraction of the cost of other development tools.

“I’ll do my best” (and other words) that should make a leader’s spine crawl

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We’ve all heard it said after coaching to improve performance – the infamous ‘I’ll do my best’ or even better – ‘I’ll try’.

OK, maybe I am a bit of a Star Wars geek, but I love the scene where Luke is ‘trying’ to use his fledgling knowledge of the ‘force’ to raise his fighter that is sinking into the swamp. He tells Yoda that he is trying and Yoda rejects him outright. Yoda tells him, “There is do, or do not. There is not try”. Well, I am not suggesting that you should dress in a ratty old cloak, grow long ears and carry a light saber. What I am suggesting is that when we allow these expressions to go unchallenged we engage in what I call ‘pretend coaching’. To really coach employees we need to dig a little deeper.

The question is : What do “I’ll do my best” and “I’ll try” really mean?

While there is no single answer to that question, I would like to suggest that these words should make your spine crawl as a leader. That is because what typically follows ‘doing your best’ or ‘I’ll try’ is, well – more of the same. So why do we pretend that our feedback was well received? If you really want to improve performance we need to first understand why these responses are so prevalent when coaching employees for change.

Here are some possible reasons for this type of ‘non response’ from an employee:

  1. They are well intentioned and want to change, however they are unclear about what you expect.
  2. They are well intentioned and want to change, however they are unsure that they can meet your expectations.
  3. They are not well intentioned and don’t want to change, however they do not believe that you will hold them accountable to changing in any kind of meaningful way.

The problem is that when you leave the dialogue with an employee with a somewhat vague commitment to ‘trying’, you also create an inability to hold the employee accountable to changing. After all, as long as they ‘try’ or ‘do their best’ then they have fulfilled their commitment to you.

How do you avoid ‘pretend coaching’ when coaching to improve performance?

So, how you avoid this trap?

First of all, you should start with the assumption that the employee wants to do a good job and change in whatever way is being requested. This is important, because quite often after a few rounds of pretend coaching, the leader starts to doubt the employee’s motivation and commitment. While this may be indeed the case, we have not earned the right to make that assumption.

So instead of assuming the worst, when an employee responds with an “I’ll try” or an “I’ll do my best” – imagine that they are running a big red flag up a flag pole that is screaming “I know you want me to commit to this but I see a problem!” Calmly say something like “I actually think you always try to do your best. Is there a reason why you feel unable to commit to doing what we have discussed?”

Then listen and ask questions. Don’t argue. Don’t listen just long enough to jump in and correct them. Really listen. What you will typically find is that they will tell you what their real concerns are. Then and only then will you be able to coach them on what they feel is the obstacle to doing what you want accomplished.

While this does not assure success, it does assure that you will be engaging in a true coaching dialogue. In order to diagnose further what the challenge blocking performance improvement might be, we offer a free Performance Trouble Shooter that will help you diagnose performance issues and pinpoint what you can do to maximize the likelihood of coaching success with any employee.

To download the Performance Trouble Shooter just click here.

Here’s to your Success!!

If you want to know more about how we can assist you or or your organization in accelerating your progress on your goals, schedule a complimentary coaching session here.

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