Leaders Driving Behavior Change

More often than not Strategic Change for Leaders is analytical and intellectual, rather than behavioral. Even more noteworthy is the fact that most people in an organization knows this. As we have interviewed people at the manager and front line level about the confidence they have in executing strategy they often comment with the same exact words. These words are “the strategy is not the problem; it is the disbelief that our leaders will change their behaviors to bring the strategy to life”.

The speed of leader behavior change is actually the pace car for strategy execution. We have found that what most leaders are waiting for will never come. They are waiting for others to go where they are not – leading change at the emotional, behavioral and personal level. And to lead this change, they must go first.  So how do leaders do this?

  1. Look in the Mirror and Identify the Behaviors in Conflict with the Stated Strategy. Step back and identify the behaviors that are in concert with the new strategy. Maybe even more importantly, identify the truth statements about the behaviors, habits and practices that are in conflict with the strategic direction. The purpose of strategy is not to create a plan, it is to change the way leaders think and act. The act part is the most critical. The leadership truth statements can include areas of creative dissatisfaction like “we don’t probe the business for performance and aren’t clear on the difference between good and lucky”, or “we become impatient when we don’t see immediate results and search for the next shiny object”, or “we don’t effectively combine the need to make fact based decisions with the urgency to act”.
  2. Define the New Behavioral Ground Rules. Leaders need to decide the new behavioral ground rules (usually 8 to 10 behaviors) they must collectively and individually embrace to be the change that they expect in others. These behavioral ground rules are actually behavioral contracts between the individuals on the leadership team. Each leader makes a commitment to hold themselves and each other accountable to these new behaviors. A behavioral ground rule can be general in developing the cross functional trust to rapidly execute like “Trust our expert and assume positive intent”.  Or a behavioral ground rule can be very specific to the company and the strategy, such as “build technology solutions that start with a defined customer need and leverage existing technology platforms (versus one-offs)”.
  3. A Leadership Behavioral Scorecard. For each of the Leadership Behavioral Ground Rules the team should rate the importance of the behavior in successfully executing the strategy on a 1 to 10 scale (1 low and 10 High). Next rate the collective leadership team performance on each behavioral ground rule, also on a 1 to 10 scale (1low and 10 high). Having worked with more than 50 leadership teams on the adoption of new behavioral ground rules that drive execution, the average performance score on the new list of critical behaviors almost always is between a 5 and a 6. This admitted and often public recognition of how far leader’s behaviors have to improve is a very effective way to create vulnerability, accountability, and support for critical Leadership behavior change.

These are the first steps that a leadership team needs to take to drive the real change that they want to see in the organization.  Leaders set the tone for the rest of the business and if they aren’t modeling the right behaviors, they can hardly expect to see their people do something different.

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