These “Mentor Minute Doubletake” blog posts take an interesting question that I was asked in my daily Live Q&A Podcasts on Facebook and give it another look. To listen to the entire Q&A, subscribe to the podcast version on iTunes or Soundcloud for free access anywhere, or check it out on my Facebook Page.

The Question: “I just want to ask how to change the behavior of someone if it has been constant for so long?”

There are a few things to keep in mind when looking to change anyone’s behavior whether they be an employee, a peer, a boss, or even yourself. These may not represent the simple and easy solution you may have hoped for, but they are your best pathway, and they are worth putting forth the effort to see to fruition.

Perseverance – There is rarely a quick fix for changing behaviors, because behaviors are very similar to habits. They are reinforced constantly in our minds and those neural pathways in our head, or the head of the employee, are well worn. They say it takes around 21 days to create a new habit (and some studies have it as high as 67 days), so your first step is to make perseverance easy by coming up with a project plan to change the behavior. It may sound formal, but anything you write down is automatically more likely to occur. Some things to include and consider with the plan:

  • Make it a five-week plan - best to err on the side of a little too much, than not enough
  • Specifically what actions do you want to address - some ideas will be below
  • How are you going to address them - a talk, e-mailed report, etc.
  • When are you going to address them – put them on a calendar now

Answer the WIIFM – Motivation matters in anything you are asking of an employee, and answering the question “What’s In It For Me” gets at the heart of motivating someone to change. People do things to get a benefit, so what do they get out of exhibiting the correct behavior that they won’t get when exhibiting the bad behavior? Now while this often stumps a lot of leaders, there is a simple “spin” on this: Show why the correct behavior is EASIER. One of the biggest benefits to anything is when it makes your life easier. Some things to consider:

  • Make the plan simple – start with one thing, start small, and make it easy to get the very first “win” to get positive momentum going.
  • Make it fun – Give public recognition of success where you can, or just a little private high-five when you see them do the right thing. Remember what Tom Peters said, “Celebrate what you want to see more of.”
  • Work the negative – Make it harder to engage in the wrong behavior. Don’t forget that one-on-ones regarding topics like this aren’t fun for the employee, so having them regularly is a subtle, and not too damaging, form of negative reinforcement. Hey, if what’s in it for them is to make the meetings stop, then that’s motivation you can use.

Be transparent and honest – Don’t lose your messaging by trying to “massage” your messaging. You get what you give. Having open discussions about the behavior will help open the other person up to feedback and allows for a minimum of “wiggle room” as far as understanding is concerned.

  • Focused on right behavior and right result – Don’t belabor the bad behavior, talk through and focus on the good behavior and what’s to come out of it. When you go down the road of talking about the “bad” you open the door for all kinds of negativity to derail the conversation.
  • Talk about the plan – Lay it out and get their feedback on it. This shows commitment on your part and starts bringing the employee into the process.
  • Track progress – If it isn’t metric related, find some way to track how things are progressing and regularly review it with the employee. What you talk about is what employees see as important, so track progress on behaviors so it reinforces the importance.

As we all know, changing behavior isn’t easy, but with the right outlook, right plan, and right follow-through you can make that change more likely. Leadership isn’t easy, but when you make the right investments of effort you can get some pretty extraordinary results.

To ask me questions on leadership or management, e-mail me at [email protected], and I would love to have you subscribe to the "Mentor Minutes Podcast" on iTunes or Soundcloud. I know it’ll be something that makes leadership easier for you.