As leaders, we invest time and energy in learning and applying new skills, but do we ever ask ourselves what it’s it like to be on the receiving end of our endeavours of behaviour change? And even how those receivers could help us with it? Even if the organisation’s leadership programme has been well publicised at work, staff can still be left wondering what their leaders are really working on, and what downstream benefits, if any, staff can expect.
Many of us want to get it right at the outset, and expect to ‘command a first-time perfect performance’ of the new behaviour. However, there is some compelling evidence to show that incremental improvements are the way to go. The evidence is within the Performance Management literature. Aubrey Daniels, a clinical psychologist, bestowed the title of ‘the father of performance management’, says that new behaviour can be shaped over time by incremental improvements, as long as the desired behaviour is ‘pinpointed’ [made specific and clear] and reinforced appropriately. The behaviour doesn’t need to be perfect, first time. Indeed, it is the incremental steps that are an important part of the journey of acquiring a new skill.
So let’s stop agonising over the perfect performance and let’s call in our reinforcements, that is our staff. Indeed, it is the very process of pinpointing, measuring, receiving feedback, being reinforced and reflecting upon the new behaviour’s benefits, that we are more likely to have the new behaviour ‘stick’ as part of our repertoire.
As leaders we have the resources to set up our own conditions for success so as to make our new behaviour ‘stick’ so why not use them? Setting up one’s conditions for success includes letting staff (the observers and reinforcers) know what we are working on. For example, if I want to be a great leader-as-coach, I need to become really clear on the specific behaviours that I want to put into action, for what kind of situations, what reinforcement I need, as well as the benefits staff can expect. And then, I don’t keep it a best kept secret. I make all of this transparent with my staff.
Anecdotal evidence for the benefits of this approach are refreshing. Staff (the receivers) of leaders’ behaviour changes, whose leaders have made their plans transparent, have commented:
With the shoe on the learner’s foot, leaders who have been transparent about their intentions, have commented:
So as a leader, don’t agonise over the prospect of having to deliver a perfect performance. Enrol staff as part of your personal development crew. Your humanity in doing so will likely spark an equally humane response in them and together you’ll create a very pleasant tone and employer brand.