Anthony Walker August 12 2021

Transformation - why it starts and stops with behaviour

An article from t-three Director, Anthony Walker, discussing transformation and the impact behaviours can have within an organisation.

Transformation takes many different forms in an organisation: a new technology platform, a restructuring or shift in strategy, a deeper focus on the customer, or a call for increased creativity. More recently it has of course come in the form of a global pandemic, and a seismic shift to the world of work. 

In almost every case, the goal of our clients has been the same; to make systemic changes so that the business can respond and thrive in an increasingly challenging market environment.

Over the last 19 years, I have seen many organisations putting a heap of new processes in place, arranging people differently in new teams or spending money on various external solutions or technologies.

But what if nothing’s changed six months later as is typically the case? Targets are still unmet, the return on the company’s investment of time and money is elusive and everything feels as it did before, potentially with a large dose of scepticism and frustration across the business.

At the root of any significant change is behaviour. Put simply, what people do every day, how they lead, what conversations they have or don’t have, how differences in opinions and experience are explicitly included or not, what gets tolerated and what doesn’t – it all makes up company culture.

This idea of course isn’t new, but the wider understanding around the impact of behaviour has certainly increased; particularly over the last few years. The idea that employee behaviour is at the core of transformational change has been talked about for a long time, but there’s clearly something missing. If ‘talk’ is all it takes, then all transformational programmes would work the first time, every time!

The concept of behavioural change feels more relevant to the world of work now more than ever. We are experiencing multigenerational workplaces, changing attitudes to hierarchy, and of course the recent exponential increase in remote working. This is especially true amongst traditionally office-based industries. All of the above means increased opportunities – and challenges – for leaders

Against this backdrop of conflicting pressures, employee behaviours can mean the difference between success and failure for a business. Leaders need to identify and make time for targeted behavioural change to ensure that their ambitions are achieved.

Any change begins with a deliberate and conscious effort to alter individual behaviours or processes, but for it to become sustainable they need to become a well practiced habit. It needs to take root in what people do and the way they behave every day. Simply articulating what the behaviours need to be just isn’t enough. Focus is crucial. An abundance of competency frameworks, values and principles are likely to create ambiguity, not clarity.

Behavioural change needs to be rooted in real life, bringing in many different departments, disciplines, and levels, and it needs to feel tangible and practical. Telling individuals in the business that they need to demonstrate ‘integrity’ or ‘collaboration’ is meaningless without practical guidance on what that means for them.

Behavioural change must be crystal clear. If a small number of non-negotiable behaviours are outlined and demonstrated, and these can be replicated across the organisation at a peer-to-peer level, your transformation change agenda has a fighting chance.

Leaders can demonstrate the behaviours themselves, but they cannot enforce them; the trick is the combination of leaders who role model the behaviours and individuals influencing each other. Learning and development professionals play a crucial role in facilitating behavioural change. They need to get people talking by enlisting highly connected individuals to act as advocates, discussing and demonstrating desirable behaviours, which in turn accelerates the change.

Transformation starts and stops with behaviour. If people don’t change their behaviour, the company will not deliver their transformation agenda.

To read more around how to deliver sustainable behavioural change download our e-guide here.

Transforming Culture eBook

Subscribe to insights from our blog here:

Would you like to know more?

How would you like to start a conversation?