Inspiring Behavior: Four Steps to Bring About Change in an Employee

By AAPL Staff
January 2, 2018

In our Coffee Break Course, learn how to remove emotion, set parameters and make sure the individual understands what and when the change needs to be completed.

THE CHALLENGE:  No one likes to hear about their shortcomings, and often, these conversations are messy and ineffective. But they don’t have to be. Leaders can use a four-step framework to bring about change in anyone.


A quick takeaway to help you hone your leadership skills.

1. Before engaging in discussion, understand the individual’s core values. What motivates him or her at a visceral, emotional level? For example, professional success is driven by underlying motivators — earning peer admiration, making supervisors happy, gaining financial security, etc.

TIP:  These values are your catalysts for behavior change. How do you uncover them? There’s no short-cut. Spend time with this person, ask good questions and get to know him or her.

2. When the discussion starts, establish context. Establish the nature of the discussion and where you stand. Achieve both by complimenting a core value (“You’re one of the most-respected members of this staff …”) and then implying a threat to that value (“… but I’ve noticed a few things that might be hurting your reputation”).

TIP:  This frames the discussion positively — suggesting the individual needs to improve, and is more than capable of doing so.

3. Stay focused and measured by “piercing the armor.” You’re trying to get past the individual’s logical and emotional defenses to make your point about behavior change. But if you over- or undercommunicate during the discussion, your point can be lost.

TIP:  Avoid driving your point too far (“Your behavior has lost you all respect in this organization”) or not far enough (“It’s not really a big deal, but …”). Address only relevant specifics of the desired change.

4. Relieve hurt feelings by “emptying the cup.” This is the most important step. When you’re communicating bad news, it’s hard for people to absorb new information. Defenses are up, feelings are hurt and new ideas aren’t likely to stick. Their mental “cup” is filled with anger, surprise and confusion.

 TIP:  Ask them what they think about what they just heard. Allow them to express frustration. And when the venting subsides, ask them what else they’re feeling. Repeat until emotion subsides.

THE BOTTOM LINE:  Once emotion is removed from the discussion, set parameters on the behavior change. Make sure the individual understands what needs to be done and when it needs to be completed. And make sure to offer your support however you can. You’ve given this individual all the motivation necessary to positively change his or her behavior.

Adapted from Fundamentals of Physician Leadership: Influence.

 The American Association for Physician Leadership® provides a comprehensive online curriculum. Click here  for more about our educational offerings and credentials.

Topics: Leadership Journal

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