November 4, 2010

Parables and Commandments

Long Haul

Ever suffered the long haul getting your team to change the way they do things?

Most leaders have.

It’s frustrating, but the idea that leadership means you can get your people to do what you want is a myth.

Let me qualify that. Changing simple things is pretty straight forward, but if you want something that involves a change in mindset, life becomes more difficult.

What do you want?

Whether you want something easy or hard, the first step is always to say what you want.

I know it sounds obvious. But the number one reason people don’t do what’s expected of them is … they don’t know what’s expected of them.

For simple changes, just letting the team in on the secret might get things off and running, lickety-split.

Shifting mindsets though – to improve customer service or to be more innovative, say – can feel like a wrestling match. But change isn’t an opponent, it’s something to bring in to your corner.

I don’t think you’ll find motivation is the hurdle. Most people want to do a good job. More often the barrier is a simple lack of understanding. Listen hard, and you might just hear your people saying, “I don’t know what [customer service/being innovative/any other conceptual change] means in my job. How. Do. I. Do. That?”

Show and Tell

In other words, a speech (or ten) that simply urges an abstract change might sound like it’s full of good ideas, but it’s probably just noise.

Put your message in context with home-grown stories that show what you mean. It’s the difference between showing and telling, between parables and commandments.

For example, for better customer service, tell tales about heroes. “Did you hear about Brian? He drove home on his lunch break to pick up a jacket to lend to a customer who’d lost his own in an airport snafu?”

Using parables gives change a human face. They show what you want in real life situations, and they break down complex concepts like “improve customer service” into simple and easy actions.

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