Change Beliefs, not Behaviours


Has communicating Vision and Values produced tangible results yet? Are people in your organisation already working as one team, breaking silos, being innovative, focusing on customers and reducing bureaucracy while being compliant yet flexible, empowered, engaged and accountable? Probably not, but why?
It is a mistake to think that our job is to drive behaviours, because behaviours are outputs, not inputs. Behaviours are an expression of people’s beliefs, and that’s where change happens. Telling people that they need to eat healthily does not make them choose broccoli over fast food, even after learning that broccoli is very good for them. Also, trying to manage performance by paying a bonus for choosing broccoli might affect people’s choices, but not their true preferences. Take the bonus away to see their behaviours revert to basics.
If we help people believe in what they do, they will (organically) come up with their best behaviours in response to it. For that to happen, there needs to be a meaningful purpose in what we are asking them to do.
Here are some examples of how focusing on beliefs can change behaviours:

  • A pharmaceutical company shares stories with their employees where ‘typical’ patients are able to perform everyday activities after successful treatments
  • An insurance company shows how customers are able to plan their futures because they are feeling protected
  • A city government communicates the reasons behind a speed limit on a road (i.e. reduce number of deaths), instead of relying on the use of speed cameras

As long as we drive initiatives that only communicate and enforce behaviours, we’ll be contributing to the skepticism and sense of déjà-vu that is so common in organisations today.
So, here’s something you can try. Review your change initiatives and steer them in a way so that they inform a set of beliefs, instead of communicating and monitoring the ‘right’ behaviours. See how people do an even better job when they believe in what they are doing.