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Webinar: understanding behavior
September 2, 2014, 09:02
Filed under: CPD | Tags: , , , ,

Continuing my current bad habit of not writing things up until weeks later, here are my notes from a webinar on July 16th. Entitled Understanding behavior – the critical link to leadership success, this was presented by consultant and behavioural psychologist Dr John Austin.

I was interested in this session for a couple of reasons – I’m always looking for new insights into effective leadership strategies, and I wanted to hear about this from an American perspective as I’m forever coming across things which are a little different over here. I’m not sure that I learned anything entirely new, but it was well-timed to make me re-evaluate some of my own behaviours, and there were some clear take-aways to bear in mind for future application.
John began the session by stating that we would be looking at ways of applying behavioural science to everyday life, and he intended to make it accessible and simple but not simplistic. Science likes things to be predictable, reliable, repeatable and measurable. This translates well to almost any workplace, as people also like things to be predictable.

Behaviour can be defined as what we say and do. Your behaviour is contingent upon your biology, your history and your environment, and only the latter of these can easily be altered. And of course other people can be &/or become part of your environment too.

As a leader you create the environment for your colleagues (especially subordinates):
Leader => Environment => Behaviour => Results
Thus, if you act to change the environment it will impact on employee behaviour and therefore the results they produce.

Multitasking is actually a misnomer, and trying to do many things at once actually takes more time than doing the tasks individually. However, being “too busy” is currently seen as a badge of honour, demonstrating your worth. Creating awareness of a situation is rarely sufficient – e.g. you are probably well aware of the speed limit but that doesn’t stop you exceeding it from time to time – and most people won’t reliably respond to your simply asking them to do something different.

If you want to effect change you need to make it so the consequences are different, as consequences apparently drive around 80% of behaviours. Applying positive consequences to a behaviour will therefore drive a rise in it, whereas negative consequences should reduce it.

So far so straightforward, but how can you achieve this whist retaining the dignity of and compassion for those whose behaviour you are seeking to influence?

Treat people as they want to be treated, BUT stop being a facilitator of negative behaviours – e.g. if a colleague is always complaining stop listening to them, change the subject, tell them to get a new job, actually walk away.

Things to try:

1. Simplify and shorten communications
Not many people read their email properly, not all of those will understand what they’re reading, and apparently no one will read for more than 3 minutes. A simplified message could achieve 25% more use, 75% more will be remembered, with a 100% increase in problem solving (unfortunately I didn’t note where these figures came from).

2. Fix something simple
Meetings. Meetings should be effective. Work should happen outside the meeting. Start and finish on time too. Take measurements – cost, length, number of action points. Poll colleagues for what makes a good meeting and make changes accordingly.

3. Gather honest input and reinforce it
Allow your team to provide anonymous feedback on what frustrates them, and do your best to address the issues. Remove barriers which stop them working effectively.

4. Learn behavioural science!
Cultures and teams change one behaviour at a time, so the only way forward is in a series of small steps. You’ll know you’re succeeding when people start to look at their own behaviour, ask for feedback and admit weaknesses. Check out for resources.

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