Monday, 26 May 2014 13:17

There’s no time for this soft stuff!

I’d hoped I’d never hear it again. I certainly didn’t expect to hear it from a young ‘High Potential Leader’ on completion of an expensive year’s leadership development program.

I truly think we continue to spend immense amounts of time and money on leadership and other learning and development inputs without seeing any corresponding change in attitudes or behaviour and other supposed ‘soft skills’.

A wise colleague many years ago, when I was starting to be frustrated with the ineptness of our behaviour change efforts in interpersonal skills, said to me, ‘Don’t worry. The good guys will always get better.’ And they do. But they are the positive deviants; the people who thrive no matter what the circumstances, and often in spite of it. They create their own success; formal development programs can claim little of the kudos.

The problem isn’t to do with the learning process itself.

There is an abundance of excellent training material, and many great trainers. But when it comes to transferring that knowledge and skill to the job, we give little attention to tracking, measuring, or ensuring a supportive environment in which learning can be applied. Mostly we’re left wishing and hoping that it will flow through to more effective behaviour and better results. Mostly it doesn’t.

What’s missing is the willingness and ability from all directions to actively hold people to account for doing what they are supposed to do. Rather than confront these sometimes difficult conversations, we ignore and tolerate non-performance or inappropriate behaviour for as long as possible. We might try dropping hints or using humour and sarcasm hoping to draw the person’s attention to the need for behaviour change. But who takes hints! Then we come in heavy, often with blame, bluster and abuse, only to make things worse and drive the problem underground. Third strike – you’re out! That’s when HR and the disciplinary process take over.

In all four steps we get it wrong and the expense and effort of the learning process is largely wasted. It takes just four different steps to get it right.
The first one is to confront unsatisfactory or inappropriate behaviour, not to ignore it. As soon as you’re aware that someone is not behaving as they should, speak up. Don’t wait, hoping the problem will resolve itself. It won’t.

Second step is to forget the hints and the humour, and confront the person with the facts of their behaviour as clearly and specifically as you can. This step is easy when you’re talking about quantifiable performance but can be tricky when you have to describe a toxic behaviour or show evidence of a negative attitude.
Third step: describe your view, opinion, or feelings about the situation and the need for a change in behaviour. Doing this without blame or accusation also takes skill, particularly when your own emotions are running high. But doing it effectively lends immense power to the statement of your case.

Step four is to engage in dialogue with the person to obtain their commitment to the change that is required. You have to stop pushing your own ideas, set aside your own solutions, and in a coaching style help the person think through for themselves, the actions they will take.

These four deceptively straightforward steps are the key to why learning and development translates into far less behaviour change and better results than it should. Left to themselves, some people will certainly be motivated to grow and develop with new tools and techniques: the rest, you must hold to account, firmly and effectively.

Ironically perhaps, when you want someone to change their behaviour, you must change yours.

If you want to become more effective at holding people to account click here.

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