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Do you sometimes wonder why people who attend training and could make changes in their behaviours and habits; don’t appear to make any changes at all?  Or why, in situations where the person says ‘yes, I understand what I need to do’, they don’t demonstrate it? Or, when staff have gone through performance reviews and identify areas where they could operate in a stronger or more effective way, then go on to sabotage future activities? 

These are questions that are sometimes asked when I am auditing, and while these questions generally are linked to the organisation wanting to demonstrate its positive HR culture and practices, I hear the frustration in these queries loud and clear. 

The reality is that it can be challenging to lead and manage staff who say such things, “I have lived through a supervisor explaining the areas where I need to make changes, but I don’t see why I need to change.”  “It’s the supervisor who needs to change, not me”, or “What can I do to survive this and keep on doing what I have always been doing?”.

It’s challenging to work with a person who says they will do something but then demonstrates through inaction that they had no intention of doing anything at all. Equally, I know leaders and managers need to be ready for staff who are enthusiastic about addressing areas where they can improve and want support while they are implementing these changes. While the latter scenario sounds more desirable and more comfortable to manage, leaders and managers may find that they too need to step up and improve themselves. 

You know, it’s not always a case of these issues being pertinent out there to other people or only happening in other organisations.  These also apply to me and what I do too.  I know there are times when I am motivated to learn and adapt my behaviour when there is a strong reason to do so and equally, there are times when I don’t see the point.  Or perhaps I don’t even acknowledge there is a point!  Like everyone else, I have my blind spots, and it’s only through feedback about the impact of my behaviour and attitude on other people that I reflect on what this means, before making changes.  Perhaps the changes are not always fast enough or relevant to the situation, and sometimes it’s a case of learning something new on one level before being tested again at a later time at a different level.  Changes don’t always occur in the way that I want them to, and sometimes I don’t see any changes I make at all.

A colleague recently pointed out to me; people make changes to their behaviour, beliefs or practice, only when they become aware of the need to make the changes. The person may not have any personal focus on continual self-reflection or see the need for such a practice.  While it is true that we are all travelling on our journey through life, the reality is that change needs to start from ourselves first before expecting any other changes to become apparent.  However, what we often find is that it is more comfortable to get wrapped up in our world and believe that change always needs to be made by other people, the system, or whatever.  We may not want to consider or face what we are bringing into situations and the lives of other people. 

I think without personal awareness, we can quickly end up not knowing why our life or our work does not go the way we think it should, or why we find ourselves in a difficult situation without understanding how that happened. 

Recently, a friend of mine, who is a Manager in a large community organisation, told me she was surprised by a highly critical performance review. After positive feedback over the 12 years of working there, she was shocked and devastated to hear about several management issues that arose from rapid and financially tricky decisions she had had to make. Initially, my friend felt the manager had been unfair to leave this sort of feedback for a performance review instead of addressing his concerns earlier and in a more appropriate manner. She said she didn’t know if she had a future with the service and was confused about the direction in which to take her program.  Instead, she sought blunt feedback about her work practices directly from five of the program stakeholders and her long-standing work colleagues.

As a result of the feedback, she could see that she was so immersed in the day-to-day program challenges and managing participant requests that she failed to step back and think about what she was doing. She found that by not sharing the problems and issues with her team, she was saving them from having extra work to do in amongst what they were already doing. This approach had only made things worse.  It was a serious wake-up call that resulted in her immediately taking steps to change her behaviour to address these issues.

When this sort of thing happens, I’m often struck by the need to operate mindfully, reflect on my practices at least every three to six months – or more often if issues are going on, as well as check out how other people experience my work.  This can be quite a scary and vulnerable thing to do.  However, without internal or external feedback, I find myself in the dark about how my words or actions are viewed until someone comments about what they have done or how they felt at a later point in time.  Far better to have advanced warning, I think and make the changes I need to make, and I know my friend feels the same way about that now!  

Thinking ahead:

  1. What actions do you take to see the need to change yourself?  How do you act on this?
  2. Do you have people around you who provide you with feedback and tell you things you may not want to hear? 
  3. Do you ensure situations requiring change have safety nets for people?

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