It’s a fact and contrary to certain prejudices and misconceptions, employees can learn to behave in new ways. However, people learn only if they are motivated and if what they learn is based on experience of what does and doesn’t work, of feeling good when something is done well, of watching and emulating role models.
Command and control and insistence on a different way from the leadership will rarely, if ever, deliver lasting results. Instructions from the mother ship, no matter how clear and unambiguous, are useless if the minds and motivation of the front line employees have not been engaged.
Equally employees respond positively only if structures and systems consistently reinforce the messages around behavior and why certain behaviors and responses are important. Too often we find that supporting infrastructure, processes and systems work against the new way of doing things rather than enabling them.
There also needs to be rewards both for behaving in certain ways and for demonstrating an ability to behave in new ways. Companies should modify their performance-management systems to strike a balance between financial results and the things that really matter in delivering on the brand promise.
People figure out what to do through feedback, reflection on their own successes and failures, and the experiences of other people. But they also need role models and leadership from the front line all the way to the executive, who consistently and relentlessly demonstrate the desired mind-sets about the job, the customers, the company, its products, and its wider role.
And here is another truth – training programs can’t teach your people to behave more appropriately. Employees watch their leaders and adopt what seems to work and what they perceive to be acceptable to the company. Unfortunately, many frontline efforts fail because leaders, left to their own devices, tend to do what they feel most comfortable doing. They fail to recognize that they need to value themselves differently. Examples we come across are previously high-performing sales people who continue to sell instead of showing their team members how to sell or perhaps successful engineers that still feel the need to do the engineering rather than mentoring others to complete the task. This type of behavior is at epidemic levels.
So the reality is that organizations need to invest equally in raising the skill and the will of leaders as well as frontline employees. They need to align systems and processes and empower the people to think for themselves. Driving accountability and providing the right motivation and reward will create employees that can thrive within the typically imperfect circumstances.