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Modifying Employee Behavior

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Have you ever spent hours, maybe days, attempting to get employees to change behavior, learn something new, or just do what you ask, to only have them do whatever they want anyway? Does it seem as if all of the talking and communication effort was just a total waste of time and energy?

The reason may not be that they do not want to change their behavior or work methods. It could be that the methods used to communicate new, or different information to them was ineffective in changing their thinking and reasoning processes. They heard you, agreed that they heard you, agreed to adjust whatever they were doing to meet your goals and objectives, then when it was time to perform, nothing changed. The employee went right back to the same behavior patterns as before. As a result of this lack of following your requests, you ask why they did not do as discussed, the answer is, “I don’t know.” Believe it or not, they truly really do not know.

To understand why the employee did not follow through on the appropriate changes or new methods that were communicated, you would need to understand how the brain functions when it comes to habits and newly learned behavior. If the human brain was a machine, it would be the most sophisticated and complex computer ever developed. The networks within the brain have the capability to fire away over a hundred million computer instructions per second. When we develop habits over time and have routines that we typically follow daily, it becomes increasingly difficult trying to change them simply because our brain has a tendency to be on something similar to an auto pilot. The brain recognizes a situation and automatically responds, without much thought, to what it believes is the best response or action that has been learned over time. Attempting to change these automated processes takes some effort and a concentrated engagement of what is happening, so a person can respond consciously in a preferred new way, versus using old habits.

So what I’m saying is that sometimes we have to take a different path to reach a new goal. For example, every day when you drive to work, you typically follow the same route. This drive becomes so routine that you don’t even have to concentrate on where your turns are, when to slow down, or how much further you have to drive.

Basically your subconscious takes over and while driving you can focus on other things instead of the task at hand, when you should be paying attention to driving and getting to work safely. But you do this every day, so, no big deal.

Let’s say for some reason your normal route to work is closed due to some construction, or an accident. Now you have to engage your brain, focus, stop messing with your phone, and actually start paying attention. The normal drive to work has now turned into a brain engaging event that requires focus, decision making, and an analysis as to how to get around the obstacle that disrupted your normal drive.

Let’s take a moment to think about this. You were driving to work, then all of a sudden, the routine has changed, you now have to focus on driving. Your mission is now focused on determining the best way to your destination or ultimate goal. Also, since you will be taking a different route that you are not accustomed to driving, you will be paying much more attention to what is going on around you.

Basically this difference between the conscious brain and unconscious brain is the result of training and habit. Your brain has been trained and has developed a habit to follow the normal route to work and does not require a lot of conscious thinking. Whereas when you had to reroute and find a new way to your destination, it required more critical thinking and conscious awareness of what is going on around you. This is the same process that the employee is going through, they automatically respond to situations with old, bad habits.

So how do we change this? First, understand that people learn easier by doing. Doing embeds memories into the brain. Have someone with bad routines or habits that need to change? After telling and showing them what you expect, have them practice the new way. You may even want to record them on video, so they may be able to actually see what they are doing differently.

Some of the best sales classes are the best because they engage the students to practice the new learned behavior, over and over again so that it becomes routine, rather than a chore or task that is uncomfortable to do.

In the future, don’t just tell people what you want done. Show them and make them do it and practice it. Odds are that they will perform as desired and you won’t hear them say “I don’t know” when something isn’t done as requested.

Frank Besednjak

Posted In: ACCA Now, Customer Service, Management

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