Why Understanding and Driving Behavior Change is a Critical People Leader Competency

Gone are the days when change management was delegated as a responsibility to the human resources function. In fact, change  management as a center of expertise has found its home more recently in the business units that are undertaking complex transformation  to win in the marketplace. Why should you as leader care about driving behavior change? Think about anything you’re trying to do…improve  individual performance, have your team work in an agile fashion, rollout a new process, implement new technology, adapt to a new way of  working – think about the return-to-work models we are putting in place as we hopefully leave the worse of the pandemic behind. A  common critical success factor in all these objectives is the ability to change human behavior and adapt to a new way. Behavior change is  hard. If you have ever made a new year’s resolution, you know what that is like. Studies show that 60% of resolutions made on New Year’s  Eve or Day are abandoned in February. And these are changes we have initiated ourselves. When we made the resolution, we fully intended  to fulfill it. Can you imagine the challenge when it is someone else that wants you to make a change? The gap between intention and action  is wide. We would like to think that organizations are made up of many well-meaning individuals who just want to do a good job. In other  words, nobody comes to work intending to do a poor job. So how do we bridge the gap between good intention and actual action? How do  we move a critical mass of people from their well-intended plans to action? That is the big challenge of managers and leaders in  organizational change and transformation. There are 4 levers that when used in an integrated and coherent manner increase your chances  as a leader to influence change in organizations:                                 

  1. Awareness and Understanding of the change    

This is every leader’s go-to change tactic. And why not? It makes sense. Send out that email, hold a townhall…these are all common tactics for leaders to communicate the case for change. More importantly, though is the content of these communication vehicles. Research has shown that people remember stories, not bullets on a PowerPoint slide. The ability of a leader to tell a compelling story of the change and to make that story personal is at the heart of not only making stakeholders aware of the change but to understanding what the change means for them and eventually, committing to the change.   

  2. Skills to make the change    

Once the change has been shared and understood, stakeholders are often at a loss because they don’t have the knowledge and skills to do their part and advance the change. This is where learning and development of the skills necessary for change come in. Providing training in the new ways of working is another key ingredient in driving change

  3. Role modeling the behavior change    

As human beings, we mimic behavior. Leaders often underestimate the power of their influence – not only what they say but what people observe them doing. In fact, when their actions do not match their words, people will doubt that a leader has really bought into the change. Conversely, when a leader behaves in a way that matches what they have communicated, they present a powerful impetus for the organization to believe and mirror the change.

  4. Reinforcing mechanisms to embed and sustain the change    

Finally, various mechanisms exist in organizations to formally reinforce the change. Think about performance management programs, rewards, organization structure, and reporting relationships. How do we make sure that these systems reinforce the change that we want in the organization?


A final note to all leaders of change. The four levers apply to any behavior change. Resist the temptation to default to the familiar tactics of change management: communicating the change and providing training. Those are just two of the levers available to leaders. To successfully lead the change, pull on all four levers and increase your chances of successful change

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