For Employee Improvement That Sticks, Strive to Transform Instead of Train

— May 22, 2019

In today’s “always on” climate, leaders are overwhelmed and overworked. And it seems they’re especially unable to devote time to people-related issues within their organizations. Instead, they choose a quick fix — a temporary patch on the problem. After all, busy leaders must return to their more important work (or what they perceive as such), so any team issues get relegated to the back burner for another day.

But your job function is reflected in your very title: If you’re a leader, you lead people; it’s that simple. And those quick fixes you’ve been relying on? Likely, they’re in the form of simple training or self-help books that address shifts in behavior, not in thinking. Thus, any changes an employee makes probably won’t stick. You must go deeper — beyond training — by transforming your team instead.

What does this look like? It involves changing how an employee thinks about (and responds to) situations to achieve better effectiveness in his or her role. Typically, that requires the following:

• Understand the “old thinking” that’s causing unsavory behaviors.

• Discern why an employee is hanging onto old thinking, even when it’s no longer effective.

• Make a shift to new thinking and practice behaviors associated with it.

Transformation Is Possible; It Just Takes a Different Type of Effort

Consider this example about a leader I once coached: Insistent upon tackling several company responsibilities on his own, he refused to rely on other departments for help. So while he worked well with his subordinates, that wasn’t the case when it came to collaborating with peers outside his department. Getting tasks done himself (and putting in long hours to do it) worked well for a little bit, but he’d always hit a point where another team’s expertise became necessary. So he’d pull others in for the task, resentful from the get-go. “They slow me down,” he’d think. “I can do this on my own.”

This almost cost him his job.

Off he went to leadership training. Surely, that would do the trick — but to no avail. He made some minor changes, but when stress levels inevitably rose again, he reverted back to old ways. To spur real change, coaching (along with accountability) was necessary. So we identified the leader’s root issues (he didn’t feel comfortable building relationships and felt doing a task himself was the only way to get it done properly) to achieve something training couldn’t hold a candle to: transformation.

We continued uncovering what was really keeping him from team collaboration, and doors started to open. The leader discovered people outside his team did, in fact, have valuable input. Additionally, he became more willing to build relationships across the business. As he transformed, so did his performance and career possibilities. As a result, he was mentoring other leaders within a year.

Transformation is possible. Here are the first steps of that journey:

1. Realize training is a tool, but it doesn’t always get the job done. Training is useful when you want to impart knowledge or teach new skills, but you must recognize its limitations. If people don’t apply the information immediately, the knowledge dissipates. In fact, 43% of American workers have undergone ineffective on-the-job training. More importantly, employees must decide to actually use the training. If accountability is absent, they may let training slide, especially if it adds work or the new actions make them uncomfortable.

2. Instill a culture founded on trust. To help team members address root issues, build a culture where it’s OK to be vulnerable. Vulnerability leads to trust, and when people trust you, they’re more likely to tell you the real problems they’re facing. Empower your employees to say, “I know I need to do X, but this is how it makes me feel.” Then, help them take baby steps forward, encouraging them along the way.

Even behemoth brands know this: President of Zulily Jeff Yurcisin has called trust the cornerstone upon which his company was built. Each employee is encouraged to take ownership over his or her work, but that won’t happen unless colleagues and managers trust one another.

Business author Patrick Lencioni says trust based in vulnerability is essential. This isn’t saying, “I trust you to get the job done.” It’s saying, “I trust you enough to share my weaknesses.” If your employees won’t talk to you about what’s holding them back (or let you ask tough questions to help them find out), you’ll never uncover the underlying cause of behavioral struggles.

In general, trust in the workplace is imperative: In fact, companies that reported higher trust rates found their employees had 106% more energy, were 76% more engaged, and were 50% more productive than those at companies with lower trust rates.

3. Select employees who are willing to transform. You can’t force people to transform. A person has to be coachable and ready to leave his or her comfort zone. As long as struggling employees are willing and have the basic talents, you can turn them into loyal high performers — all because you took the time to help them reach their full potential. I’ve helped people make radical changes in their style simply because they were willing to change.

Wanting to keep their jobs isn’t enough; employees have to want to transform. As a leader, this could be as simple as choosing to nurture your team members to make them feel valued — instead of feeling like you have to because you’re the boss. While it may slow you down a bit to chat with your direct reports, the end result builds loyalty, engagement, and a greater commitment to the department’s goals. Making a new choice is a sign of transformation.

4. Hold people accountable. Even with transformations (which can happen through a coach, leader, or mentor), employees must receive feedback, be held accountable, and experience consequences for bad behavior to ensure improvements stay in place. Otherwise, a person may choose to not endure the discomfort of transformation at any stage. It’s natural to refuse change, even when it’s absolutely necessary. So keeping your employees accountable on this front is vital.

As business executive Peter Bergman puts it, “Accountability is about delivering on a commitment. It’s responsibility to an outcome, not just a set of tasks. It’s taking initiative with thoughtful, strategic follow-through.”

Interpersonal issues or poor performance has devastating effects on both culture and the bottom line. To correct the greater issue, don’t simply default to training employees who aren’t reaching their full potential — consider transformation instead.

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Author: Loriana Sekarski

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