Influencing Behavior

As leaders, one of the primary goals is to influence behaviors. It is the leader’s responsibility to ensure that everyone in their care is performing to the organization’s expectations. I say everyone in their care because that is how it should be. You should care for those you intend to lead just as you would care for your children. And just as with your children we use something called antecedents as a tool to influence behaviors.

Now, the dictionary defines an antecedent as: a thing or event that existed before or logically precedes another. A speed limit sign is an antecedent to a desired behavior. It provides us the necessary information we need to understand the desired behavior. However, if the sign was all that existed, would we all drive the speed limit? Probably not. There must be consequences for the antecedent to be effective. And as we all know, when we exceed the speed limit we may be faced with a negative consequence - a speeding ticket. Of course, if we choose to obey the speed limit, there can be positive consequences as well. We may get a reduction on our insurance over time. We may ensure the safety of our loved ones and the loved ones of others. And for me, it makes for a much quieter trip when traveling with my wife.

Leaders use all kinds of antecedents: Rules, regulations, training, instruction, etc. However, in the absence of consequences, both negative and positive, these attempts to influence behaviors often fall short of the desired result. Now before you go thinking about writing everyone up to gain the behaviors you desire, know this: it is the positive consequences that will yield the best results. Go catch someone doing something right and let them know it immediately! This will reinforce the behaviors we sometimes take for granted. Allow others to see this. Of course, when you see someone doing something not aligned with the desired behavior, you must respond immediately as well. Usually a little coaching is all that is needed to re-direct a person’s behavior. But when left alone to perform improperly for a length of time, now the behavior becomes more difficult, if not impossible to re-direct. NOTE: an annual review is not the time to introduce negative or even positive consequences. These should have been addressed back when they happened. The review should be nothing more than a re-cap of what everyone already knows. The number one reason leaders fail to influence behaviors is the absence of providing daily feedback and the applicable consequences. So, get out there and talk to your people. Provide the feedback we all wish we had!
I Praise loudly, I blame softly – Catherine the Great

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