Home Corporate Culture “As managers, we have to get out of the behavior modification business.”

“As managers, we have to get out of the behavior modification business.”

We can help people with skills . . . to improve old ones or learn new ones.  But it’s just about impossible to change their behaviors in any meaningful way.  Yet we continue to waste time trying.

Take the example of Bill, ace IT guy.  He’s an electronics genius.  There isn’t anything with a circuit board that he doesn’t know or can’t figure out.  Unfortunately, he’s perpetually crabby, ill-tempered, and believes everybody in the building is an idiot except for him.  He’s been counseled, numerous times, about his hostile behavior.  He always acknowledges the criticism and pledges to do better, but within about an hour and a half, he’s back to his old crabby, ill-tempered self.  He’s 35 years old.  It’s very unlikely that a few counseling sessions are going to undo the behaviors it took Bill 35 years to learn.

The best solution, of course, is to hire people whose behaviors are a good fit with your company’s culture.  But nobody bats 1000 when it comes to hiring the right people.  Sometimes we get it wrong and end up with Bill.  When we do, we have to recognize that he is what he is and wasting time trying to modify his behavior would be a fool’s errand.   Our only real options are to show him the door or find ways to put up with him.

But we don’t like those options.  His skills are a valuable company resource that we would hate to lose. Besides, finding and hiring a replacement is expensive and time-consuming. On the other hand, putting up with him sends a signal to the rest of the organization that rude, abusive behavior is OK.  So we look for a third option.  We say to ourselves, “We can work with this guy. We can get him turned around.”  No, you can’t.  Not unless you’re a trained psychologist and are willing to spend years working with him.  Much as you want an Option 3, don’t waste your time.  Stick with Option 1 or Option 2.  Show him the door or put up with him.

“Consider how hard it is to change yourself and you’ll understand what little chance you have of trying to change others.”

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