Organisational change is easy to do when it involves construction of something, replacement of a tangible thing such as a software system, or a physical shift from one place to another.

But when the change is dependent on a behaviour shift, and the persons involved can choose to not engage in the new behaviour, the real test of change leadership begins.

The moment you understand the invisible or unobservable elements that underpin human behaviour, you position yourself to achieve performance improvements you might never have thought possible.

Whether you want to change your weight, change your relationship or change your company’s bottom line … it all comes down to human behaviour.

If you fail to address the behaviour and thinking patterns that created the existing situation in the first place, a time will come when you relax your regime of ‘change’ and everything will slip back to the way it was; back to the undesirable state.

The Status Quo Feels Better

Truth is, the thinking and behaviour patterns of your people are in sync with the current status quo.

Take the example of a rubber band. If you want to change the shape of the rubber band you might pull it and stretch it to a new shape. You could even hold it extended for a period of time in the shape you desire.

But as soon as you let go it just snaps back into place, back into its original state.

Your business is somewhat like this rubber band – it has an existing state or status quo that its people are comfortable with.

You can force these people into a new pattern of behaviour, but as soon as you relax your guard (which will happen sooner or later) they will begin to slip back into their old patterns.

Suffice to say this is the greatest challenge business leaders face today; getting people to alter their behaviour willingly and permanently.

What I’ve found during my 50 year working career is encapsulated in this statement:

When two opposing behaviours are a choice, the behaviour we associate the least pain or most pleasure to will ultimately dominate our behaviour in the long term.

The Number One Mistake in Change Leadership

The number one mistake you can make in leading change is to focus on managing people’s actions. This is often driven by the desire to use position based ‘authority’ to get them to change.

This is an out-dated ‘Industrial Age’ approach that’s still practiced widely.

It’s a model that involves managers using authoritarian based command and control methods to coerce staff into greater productivity and higher-level performance.

Granted, this method of leadership does have its place. However, in today’s social and business environment, if this is the only style employed it will not work long term!

Without addressing the unseen elements that drive people’s behaviour, a leader of change will never successfully create lasting change.

The Wrong Source of Motivation

When an employee’s source of motivation is compliance or obedience, managers have to remain vigilant and continually monitor behaviour. If they don’t, the desired behaviour will not last.

Imagine your managers having to monitor employee work continually in an already busy environment.

They have less time; more stress; and (in my experience) they also suffer a decline in the quality of their personal life.

The change only persists if the managers keep up the monitoring effort.

Today your employees have the power of CHOICE, so authoritarian based models of influence are not without risk.

If that is the only style used, your best staff will simply move on to find a more positive working environment where they will be engaged and challenged, not commanded. All you’re left with is the dead wood.

The Paradigm Shift

One of the most important things I have learnt in my long working career is this:

All shifts in business results are preceded by a permanent change in behaviour. All permanent behavioural changes are preceded by a step change in thinking … a paradigm shift!

The question that emerges now is how do you do that? I can offer this advice.

Proactively Address the Unobservable Elements of Performance

The strength and effectiveness of a leader’s effectiveness to create change lies in their intimate knowledge of the unobservable elements of human behaviour that drives results and how these can impact business at all levels.

Let me describe those elements (refer to the diagram above) in this way.

The quality of the RESULT or OUTCOME you experience is determined by the quality of the actions or behaviours you engage in. Undertake the right behaviours and you create the desired outcome; it’s fundamentally as simple as that.

What determines the quality of the ACTIONS or BEHAVIOURS you engage in?

Many people will think the answer is skill. In actual fact the quality of your actions and behaviours (within your potential capability) is determined by the quality of your emotional state, that’s right; determined by how you feel.

Emotions drive all behaviour; emotional state determines whether we do or not do something, it determines the quality of every single action we engage in within a given range of performance potential.

To change the potential, you change the skill.

To change the quality of the behaviour, you must alter the emotional state.

What determines the quality of one’s EMOTIONAL STATE?

The quality of one’s emotional state is determined by the quality of one’s THINKING and BELIEFS.

Effective leaders are very effective at working with the unobservables … thinking, beliefs and emotional state.

Benefits for Organisations

Through understanding how these Unobservable Elements of Performance can be shifted, you can consistently experience results in two areas:

1. Performance Growth

Engaging people directly so they willingly shift their thinking and beliefs as a foundation to behaviour change.

We put a tonne of effort into this aspect of performance in our business execution workshops and leader development seminars. In fact each and every seminar we deliver is designed to give people a set of skills and tools, but more importantly to have the right frames of reference and the vital sense of motivation to actually use the skills we teach.

Always remember … the thinking and motivational aspects of a new skill set can never be left unaddressed if you want people to use those skills.

2. Less Requirement for Supervision

Leaders who can utilise the power of influence and persuasion to affect how people think and what they feel, can create permanent change without the need to spend time watching and supervising people to make sure they change.

It takes time to develop these skills to the point where they can be utilised without thinking in any situation, but it is well worth the effort if you want your leaders to spend time working on the right things.

Three Scenarios Where This Applies

I know of three scenarios where effective change leadership skills can be of enormous benefit to a modern day leader.

Scenario 1:

Informally influencing others around you to engage in some new behaviour or respond to your requests. This can be at home or at work, and even upwards, downwards and sideways.

Scenario 2:

Leading a change initiative and guiding people through a roadmap of change that involves a specific sequence of steps from planning through to locking the change in.

Scenario 3:

Formally presenting to audiences in order to influence their behaviour and generate some specific response to a request. Audiences can be of any size and both known and unknown to the presenter. This scenario is often a precursor to Scenario 2.

More Information

For more information about the work of George Lee Sye, visit where you’ll discover one of the most significant professional development programs in the world today covering topics of leadership, influence, business execution, and lean six sigma.

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