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Time To Reassess Employees' Psychology

Successful behavior of employees increased by leader behavior.

Volumes of research and experience by organizational change experts have come to this conclusion: success is only possible by changing peoples' workplace behavior.  Even so, this change is difficult.

In the past 20 years, the integration of psychology and neuroscience research has provided a more accurate view of human behavioral change. The implications of this research are critical for leaders in organizations, and show us that employee behavior does not actually work the way employers have thought. This helps to explain why so many leadership initiated organizational change initiatives have failed. And it also explains the success of companies like Toyota, whose workplace practices reflect how the human brain works.

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David Rock, author of Quiet Leadership, and Jeffrey Swartz, author of The Mind and the Brain, have looked at this issue of behavioral change in organizations and have concluded the following:

  • Change is pain.  Organizational change actually provokes physiological pain in employees.
  • Simple behavioral techniques don't last. Change efforts based on incentives or fear (the carrot and stick approach) rarely succeed in the long run.
  • Shallow employee relation techniques (eg: employee of the month) doesn't improve employee engagement or productivity. Deep and meaningful interaction with employees is required.
  • Results come from focus. Whatever is emphasized on the worksite creates chemical and physical changes in employees' brains.
  • Expectations shape reality.  Pre-conceptions have a huge impact on what people perceive as reality. Change the perceptions and you change their reality.
  • Identity is shaped by attention. Repeated, purposeful and focused attention on something important can lead to long lasting personal and organizational change.

Leaders can change their own behavior or influence that of other people by focusing on creating new behaviors rather than trying to fix old ones. In a world with so many distractions, one of the biggest challenges is being able to focus enough attention on any one idea. Leaders can make a difference by eliciting attention on only the most important things and focusing their feedback to employees on things that work well. Focusing on solutions and not problems, and allowing employees to generate solutions and developing new positive behaviors becomes a critical management strategy to increase success.

Ray Williams is the author of Breaking Bad Habits and The Leadership Edge.


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