how to achieve behaviour change in the workplace

How to achieve behaviour change in the workplace

While behaviour change in the workplace is possible, it’s a situation that can leave managers and leaders feeling lost. Approaching the topic of poor behaviour in the workplace, or simply behaviour that doesn’t meet the requirements or standards of a role can be daunting. 

It’s a minefield of a situation with many ways in which feedback around behaviour can be misconstrued, misunderstood, or worst of all, leave the team member feeling hurt or even angry. 

This is where knowing the science of human behaviour and behaviour change conversations comes in handy. We’ve actually written a whole book on it, but for today’s article, we’re going to focus on some of the core science-based strategies worth taking on board.


How to achieve behaviour change in the workplace


Getting specific about behaviour change

The more specific you are in your conversations about which behaviours you’re looking for, the more likely it is that others will be able to repeat the behaviours you’re after. However, if you’re trying to use positive reinforcement to support behaviour change, you’ve got to be careful about how you use it as it could be too generic for it to be valuable.

For example, if someone in your team is showing a staff member a new system, you might reinforce them with a comment like, ‘Oh, good work with the new employee – you did a great job’. While this is nice to hear, it’s not specific enough to allow the person on the receiving end to replicate the behaviour in future. The best thing you can do in this instance, where you’ve noticed a positive behaviour that you’d like to see more of is to describe that behaviour when giving feedback or offering in-the-moment praise.

For example, ‘Love the work you did with Marcelo when you spent those two hours on Wednesday morning showing him how to navigate the STIP system. Being available for him to ask questions and trial the system with you was perfect’.

The level of detail in this feedback allows the person on the receiving end to understand exactly what behaviour was appreciated. As a consequence, there is a strong likelihood they perform the same task in the same way in future. It works the same way for negative behaviours – you’ve got to get specific in order to allow people to stop repeating a behaviour in future.


Depersonalising the conversation

Moving into behaviour-based language allows you to depersonalise a situation easily and talk about changing behaviours while being completely supportive of the individual. 

Instead of leaning on traits like ‘lazy’ or ‘unreliable’ getting clear on the specific behaviours you’ve seen can depersonalise the conversation and allow you both to focus on the exact problem at hand.

It can also be useful to make use of a third point when having a tough conversation around behaviour change in the workplace. If you’re face-to-face this might be a piece of paper that you’re drawing on to illustrate your point, such as the ideal flow of a customer service conversation or whatever behaviour you’d like to see in future is. 

In a hybrid or remote working team, you’ll need to make use of a screen-sharing functionality throughout a behaviour change conversation to get the benefits of a third point. This could look like making a list of the specific behaviours you want to see more of from your team member and setting a date to review and come back to discuss the progress that’s been made and any challenges that came up for the person in meeting the standard. 

If you’d like to explore more practical and pragmatic strategies for managing conflict situations in the workplace or delivering clear and actionable feedback to your team, pick yourself up a copy of our best-selling book, Dealing with the Tough Stuff.