I sat across from the CEO, watching his face turn several lovely shades of purple as he ranted about the latest sales initiative they had rolled out in a record six weeks. He had expected immediate turn-around on results, and was pounding the table with every word, causing our coffee and cokes to develop actual waves that threatened to splash over the edge of our Styrofoam cups.
“Why won’t these darn people change? We’ve provided training out the yazoo, we’ve offered a free dinner with leadership for the sales winner, we’ve sent out detailed communications about the new initiative. There’s no excuse for people dragging their feet except pure laziness.”
Brought in to correct the issue and instigate behavioral change, I listened carefully, took notes, and provided the following feedback. Granted, my feedback was a little softer than what I’m getting ready to say to you, but this was the gist of it:
1. People don’t change because it is commanded of them. They change because they believe the change is best for them and the people they serve. They change because you engage their heart with why it’s a good thing. They change because they know the exact steps they should take to move forward.
2. The reward should fit the effort. No offense, but while leaders might think dinner with them is the coup d’etat, most employees don’t. Dinner with the leader will make them nervous, and generally consists of the employee being drilled with awkward questions like “How long have you worked for us?” Especially when they’re a twenty year employee. Want to reward an employee? Give them paid time off, a bonus, a vacation. Don’t punish them with dinner.
3. Detailed communication might be helpful, but it doesn’t move people. The most detailed leadership e-mail is trumped by one story shared from a leader face-to-face every time. Leadership needs to get out of their office and go shake some hands. Pat some backs. Tell people they’re worth the time on the corporate jet. Communications is a misnamed department, because they generally just put words on paper that have been whitewashed by legal and sit on manager’s desks because this communication looks just like the other twenty-five that have come out in the past couple of weeks.
Want to know what changes people? Use this as a test. When you were eight -years-old, which of the following points made by your parents would have most likely persuaded you to take a bath:
1. You should take a bath because I just bought some new shampoo, new body soap, and filled the tub. I’ve invested a lot in this bath, so you should jump in immediately.
2. If you take this bath you will get to have dinner with our neighbor who is a teacher and could help you get ahead in school.
3. Here is an instruction page describing exactly how to take the perfect bath. I won’t check to make sure you did it right, but I will expect you to be clean.
4. The entire family takes a bath each day, including your mom and dad. It’s something we all are doing because it makes us feel better. I remember one day that I went to school without taking my bath the night before, and the kid who sat next to me – Victoria Rojas – started plugging her nose and saying that I was stinking up the classroom. Everybody laughed, and I realized that a bath is more important than I thought. Most importantly, once you spend ten minutes in the bathtub and I check to ensure you are clean, then you will get ice-cream.
Great leaders inspire change by understanding what benefits are important to their people – by knowing what moves them. Just because they’ve invested a lot of money in the supplies for this new change doesn’t mean it will happen. The leader should do whatever they’re asking their people to do, and offer rewards that mean something to those getting involved. They should observe the change on a regular basis, to determine what is missing and what is working. Leaders should share a story that tells people why this initiative is important. And I don’t care what the books say, people respond to rewards because it shows that somebody values the effort they’ve exerted.
What do you think?