Embracing behavioral changes

Dr. Todd Dewett is leadership and success expert and a two-time No. 1 global best-seller at / LinkedIn. He recently checked in with us to offer his insight on how to embrace behavioral change. Here’s what he had to say:

What is your leadership philosophy?

Be willing to try and fail. Use questions more than dictates. Serve others as much as you serve yourself. Never forget how little you know. Never lose sight of the short nature of life. Together, these ideas push you to live a life fully examined. To lead openly, positively, and aggressively.

What leaders have taught you the most important lessons in your career so far?

The single best answer is my father. When he quit the bottle and changed his life, he gave me a best friend I could have never imagined. He taught me that true transformation is possible.

How would you define behavioral change?

A consistent new productive behavior that has been intentionally adopted.

Why is behavioral change so challenging for people?

There are so many reasons. Our current beliefs and routines form very strong behavioral inertia. Changing course not only requires you to choose a new direction, but to overcome an immense force holding you in place. In addition, there are expectations from others, time constraints, lack of resources, stress, etc. Behavioral change is very possible, but requires tremendous focus and resolve.

Why is behavioral change critical to the success of a leader and their organizations?

The cliche is largely true – change is the only constant. As business environments and talent pools shift, so must the behaviors required for success. Status quo processes, practices and behaviors add value by executing what made sense yesterday, but less so today. Gaining skill and comfort with changing the status quo is the only true long-term survival skill for organizations.

What habits or workplace behaviors do you think all organizations should adopt?

Hiring a few square pegs. Yes, most of your hires should be aligned with the prevailing culture. However, a minority (about 5-10 percent) should not. They should be creative, educated and clearly qualified, but somehow different. Where they went to school, what they studied, their professional history, the way the look, etc. – sometimes a good square peg in a round hole is a beautiful idea stimulant. Valuing creative efforts and successes. Organizations have a bad habit of celebrating rare creative successes such as new products or services or technologies. What they fail to do is celebrate the never-ending series of attempts and tries and failures that support the development of the rare creative outcome. Smart organizations embrace and celebrate the entire process, not just the occasional successful outcome. That’s the only way to build principled risk-taking as an integral part of organizational culture.

Shedding a reliance on yesterday. One of the greatest predictors of failure is strong success. Too often success leads us to over rely on that which work yesterday. We stop striving, experimenting and taking smart risks as we indulge in milking the cash cow. Progressive organizations put limits on how much they rely on yesterday’s successes in an attempt to prudently force the team to create tomorrow’s successes.

What habits or behaviors do you think are important for organizations to break?

Over formalization. As companies mature, they inevitably formalize. Where yesterday there was not a specified procedure, today there is methodology for everything! Rules, guidelines, policies, committees. Bureaucracy is good and often helpful, but must be kept in check so that the burden does not outweigh the benefit. Evaluations that don’t work. What an amazing example of having great intentions. These are systems that are supposed to collect data so managers can make decisions about talent management and development, productivity, morale, etc. In reality, they are often perceived as lacking in utility and fairness by the participants thus producing data that isn’t terribly useful. The key is not tweaking and expanding to improve them. The key is streamlining and shortening with the help of those who are subjected to the evaluations. In this case, less is surely more.

The wrong focus for HR.

I love my HR brothers and sisters, but the odd historical development of the typical HR department leaves much to be desired. On the one hand you have the mechanical nuts and bolts side – compensation, benefits, compliance, etc. On the other hand you have the people development side of HR: Succession planning, executive training, employee training, mentoring and coaching, etc. These two sides are so different it’s laughable. Forward thinking organizations should separate them immediately. The former group is all about checking boxes and avoiding litigation while the latter group is focused on making us great in the future.

What’s one of your favorite anecdotes about a leader and/or organization that was successfully able to break old habits and ignite positive change?

I once informed a company president of an odd non-verbal behavior he used commonly in conversation with his team. When stating his view on a topic he would shrug with his hands open, palms up, nodding his head in the affirmative. This, of course, was interpreted by his team as a gesture that said, “You guys agree with me, right?” When he became aware of this, he was shocked, then he laughed and became intent on improving his management meetings. He did. He stopped using the non-verbal gesture, he spoke just a little less, asked a few more questions and worked hard to nudge others to speak up. The team began very new and more invigorating conversations. It was a cool thing to watch.

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