Three Simple Steps to Influence Behaviours



As a leader, what makes you valuable? I am sure there are many answers to this question, depending on your particular role and company, but if you’re a real leader, then chances are I can sum up the reason you are valuable in one simple sentence:


You are valuable because you can influence people’s behaviour to make the team you manage more effective.


Think about it. At the end of the day all leaders are valuable because of this one trait. Influencing people’s behaviours can enable you to get people to:


do more of the high value things, and be less distracted

provide brilliant customer service

think outside the box and come up with great solutions

spend less money and help our bottom line

Turn up to work on time and help out their team mates


Our ability to influence people’s behaviour, and shape those behaviours, greatly impacts the performance of the team and the organisation.


Sounds simple. What’s the catch?


In an ideal world, all of our employees would engage in what is termed ‘Top-Down Processing.” In Top-Down Processing, we make behavioural choices based on an attempt to achieve a long term goal. For instance, Top-Down Processing would keep your customer service reps on the phone an extra five minutes to make another sale or add some more value to the customer - above and beyond the original reason the customer called. In life, Top-Down Processing would help us choose a healthy lunch if our goal was to lose weight.


Unfortunately for leaders, the vast majority of people make behavioural choices based on “Bottom-Up Processing.” That is, they tend to react to the situation around them and the obvious opportunities that the environment presents - and this is what drives their behaviour. So they answer only the question the customer called for and then gets the off the phone as quickly as possible because their lunch break just ticked over. In life, they then go to lunch and order a burger and fries - because that is what is calling to them the loudest.


What can we do about it?


There are three things you need to be very aware of, that will help keep your long term goals and behaviours front of mind for your staff. You want to make it easier for them to identify and choose the right behaviours, but also, you want to have the environment keep reminding them. In this way you get the best of both worlds - you get them more focussed on Top-Down, but there is enough Bottom-Up to keep them on track.


Here are three things you need to know:


1) Set Expectations

Many leaders are really clear about what it is they are trying to get their people to focus on. Set very clear expectations about what you are trying to achieve, but also set clear expectations about what that looks like from a behavioural standpoint.


In order to understand the goals of the business, they need to stay front of mind. Talk about them all the time, make them visible and integrate them into all your systems.


In order to understand what that looks like day-to-day, they need to understand the behaviours that go along with them. What should people be doing that represent their attempts to achieve the long term goals?


2) Recognise positive behaviours

It’s a simple rule and considered common sense, but positive reinforcement helps cement behaviours. Make sure that you give praise for people who are whoeing the behaviours you want to see. Better yet, do this in front of the rest of the team, so that they also start to understand what it is you are looking for.


The positive recognition helps to keep it front of mind, and gives a shorter term reward for doing the right things.


3) Hold people accountable when they do the negative

This is the flip side of the above. When people do the wrong thing, then hold them accountable. You don’t necessarily have to drag them over the coals, but let them know they’ve done the wrong thing and how they should correct it next time.


Rest assured that other team members will notice their indiscretion, so if you don’t address it, you don’t seem serious about the expectations you set. And before you know it, you’ll find other people taking a ‘why bother’ attitude.


Influencing behaviour is pretty simple. Set the Expectations. Reward the Positive. Hold people accountable for the negative. While it’s pretty simple in theory, it’s harder in practice. But the more you get people doing the things that make a difference, and avoiding the things that don’t, the more effective your team’s going to be.

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