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Monday, 13 January 2014 00:00

Change behavior first. Attitudes will follow.

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A few years ago I was working with a large professional services firm which was implementing a new ATS (Applicant Tracking System) in their recruiting department.  the system was designed to take in and applications from the corporate website and various job boards, automatically respond to applicants, and then help the recruiting team keep track of candidates throughout the screening, interviewing and hiring process.  The idea was that the recruiting team would eventually have a deep database of candidates to call on, while applicants would be processed more efficiently and everyone would have a terrific experience.

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Well, of course the system as delivered wasn't quite as perfect as it had seemed in the initial presentations by the company which built it.  It didn't perfectly match the current processes, it had some very complicated features, and it wasn't quite as easy to use as it had seemed in the original boardroom presentation.

The staff began to grumble, and adoption of the new system got a bit wobbly.  It was time for leadership.

The VP Recruiting, a well-respected and popular leader, undertood a successful 3-pronged approach:

1.  Insight and input:  He asked senior team members to provide, factual, non-emotional, functional-based feedback about the system.  He ignored vague critiques like "It sucks!" but carefully compiled specific items like "It's difficult to set up new job boards within the system".  Then he took this list to the developers and told them to fix them.

2.  Training:  In the original plan, the system had been positioned as so easy to use, it wouldn't require training.  When it was clear this had been wildly optimistic, he quickly identified a couple of team members who seemed most technically adept, sent them to the developers for some in-depth training, and made them subject-matter experts with a certain amount of authority.

3.  Brooking no dissent:  While working on productive solutions to the problems via #1 and #2, the VP Recruiting meanwhile put a stop to any negative conversations about the new system.  He didn't issue an edict or bark orders; he simply curtailed any complaints that walked into his office with a, "Yes, we're working on it - but in the meantime, just keep plugging, please," and when he encountered gripe sessions within the office, he subtly but firmly put an end to them by changing the subject or referring to the ongoing revisions and training.

Why did this 3-pronged approach work?

As a respected and popular leader, the VP Recruiting had the ability to influence his staff.  By demonstrating that he knew there were challenges (by asking for input about improvements) and was willing to spend resources to get the required training for staff, he maintained his credibility.  (When leaders pretend there isn't a problem when everyone knows there is, they risk look oblivious or clueless - both of which undermine their authority.)

Most importantly, however, he made it clear that regardless of the limitations of the system, the expected behavior for employees was to do the best they could and not waste time complaining.  He was changing the behavior even if attitudes weren't quite there yet.

The result?  The behavior change led to an attitude change.  With the negative grumbling curtailed and the knowledge that there were some solutions in the pipeline, employees settled down to the new system and got on with their work.

Read 2146 times Last modified on Tuesday, 14 January 2014 23:26

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Beth Banks Cohn, PhD, founder and president of ADRA Change Architects, is dedicated to helping you and your organization reach your full business potential…
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