From the Blog

Why is shifting employee behaviour so hard?

Can you really change behaviour to drive performance?

by Brad Thomas


I have spent a lot of time reflecting on how to shift behaviour to drive performance over the years. I’ve worked side-by-side with many of Australia’s most recognised brands to improve employee outcomes and I keep coming back to the same answer:

Most organisations know what needs to be done but executing consistently proves to be really hard work.

Sticking at a newly introduced system, process or methodology designed to change behaviour and improve performance is a challenge. Holding your nerve when change doesn’t yield immediate results is even harder, particularly if the change is outside your comfort zone.

Left unchecked, people usually revert to what they’re most comfortable doing – even if ingrained habits have proven not to work.

‘Change the DJ’

It takes me back to working in nightclubs. If the DJ didn’t bring the crowds after one week, ‘change the DJ’ came the call. The  DJ would never get a chance to build momentum, to learn about the audience, adjust what they played and get people in.

Creating sustained behavioural change that drives performance can be the same; we tend to move on too quickly if the results aren’t immediate.  We have all observed or led teams where customer satisfaction improves one week because we focus on it but the following week it drops when we focus on something else. Every week feels like Groundhog Day.

Why employee behavioural change programs fail

I have observed some common themes that make changing behaviour hard work or even impossible:

  1. Lack of a consistent cadence for people development: In absence of dedicated time to develop people, coaching becomes ad hoc, rushed or not done at all. In times of crises, coaching, development, and team meetings are the first things that get dropped.
  2. Trying to solve every problem at once: Most teams are measured on multiple outputs but focusing on all measures at once doesn’t work.  Looking at each output one at a time, if done well, can move the dial quicker and sustain for longer.
  3. Output focused development: Talking only about the numbers might work in the short-term, but being super clear about the behaviours you want to see shows employees what they need to  ‘do’. If they knew how to hit their targets, they’d be doing it already.
  4. Moving on too quickly: When there are many challenges to overcome, it’s easy to fall into the habit of changing focus before the team has had a chance to embed the skills learnt in coaching. Ensure you get 60- 80% of the team using the new skill consistently before moving on.
  5. Minimum consequence for inaction: “What happens if my team don’t want to use the new skill?” is a common question. Having a plan for those who choose not to try something new is a must. Behaviour breeds behaviour.
  6. No system or employee coaching software to measure the first five themes: Finding employee coaching software that helps track and measure points one to five is imperative. A great system will prevent organisations having to redo the change every two years. Why not just get it right the first time?

Getting it right – shifting behaviour for the long-term

I’ve been thinking about our clients and how we work with them to address these themes. It’s helpful to look back at the long-term changes that clients have been able to make and the progress they continue to make.

I’m working with a long-term client who, over 8 weeks, with the support of YakTrak and GRIST Consulting, was able to improve results across multiple measures.

  • Customer Satisfaction: Improved by 70%.
  • First Call Resolution: Improved by 4.3%.
  • Quality of Customer Conversations: Improved by 7.4%
  • Customer Resolution: Improved by 8.1%

The brilliant thing about these results is, although we were only working on three behaviours to lift one measure, we observed others improve at the same time. Focusing on behaviour proved to be a much better use of everyone’s time.

We are now well into year three and the program of work is well embedded with no signs of slowing down. They continue making tweaks and changes to align with new environments. The common themes outlined earlier remain front of mind to ensure they are getting the basics right.

It seems counterintuitive but going a bit slower and taking the time to get the behavioural employee coaching and development system right achieves quicker, more sustained results over time.

So how often do you change the DJ?

Brad Thomas was previously a director of Grist Consulting Group and is now Co-Founder and COO of YakTrak.

Image by Antoine Julien via Unsplash