Talk Less and Deliver More Consequences To Effect Workplace Change

Why do businesses have so much trouble introducing change? Why do managers complain that they talk till they’re blue in the face but employees still resist adopting new methods?

The problem is that the managers are focusing on talking instead of delivering the necessary consequences for change. Most people, including parents, think that speaking louder, longer and meaner will get others to do what they want them to do. They apparently have forgotten that actions speak louder than words. These talkers tell their employees or children the same thing over and over, but they vary the message or its intensity in hopes that one alteration will bring about the desired action.

Mothers learn that if they call children by their full name, they will respond better than to gentler requests. Actually, it is not the use of the full name or even the tone of voice that produces the action but that the full-name command and accompanying tone of voice is highly correlated with a consequence.

Management literature blames communication when, in fact, the problem relates to the consequences that do – or don’t – follow the communication. The issue isn’t the clarity of the communication, the intensity with which it is delivered, or the extent to which employees understand the message. Rather, it’s the fact that what we say we are going to do and what we actually do often are at odds.

For example, you may have told employees that they should use new methods because it will simplify their work and that of others. However, employees find excuses to use the old procedures because they are familiar, and the new methods take more time to learn and are more difficult to execute correctly in the early stages. In other words, immediate experience contradicts what you said. You also may have told your team in frustration that you will not accept things done the old way, but you haven’t always followed through on that because of schedule demands from your customers.

When introducing a change in the workplace, here are a couple of tips on how to achieve success:

  1. First, it’s critical to plan the consequences for performing a task correctly and the consequences for not doing so. By consequences, I mean immediate effects to the performer – not consequences that are in the sky by and by or results that benefit the organization.
  2. Second, arrange for positive reinforcement, for individual and group accomplishments. Most managers think only of negative consequences. While those may be necessary under certain circumstances, focus on using positive consequences for learning and applying new procedures. For example, write notes thanking those who adapt to the changes, and spend time in the workplace with those who are trying the new methods. Also, once the entire office or work group is on board, plan a celebratory lunch and symbolically bury the old procedures. In other words, make change fun.

If you spend at least as much time delivering consequences as you do communicating, you will not have a problem with compliance or adapting to change and your job will be a lot less stressful.


Aubrey Daniels, Ph.D., is founder of management consultancy Aubrey Daniels International, as well as author of Performance Management: Changing Behavior That Drives Organizational Effectiveness and five other best-selling business books. He may be reached at [email protected].


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