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Change anything: Getting personal with performance improvement

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This post is by David Maxfield, vice president of research at VitalSmarts and co-author of “Influencer: The Power to Change Anything.” This April, he released “Change Anything: The New Science of Personal Success.”

Are your direct reports in need of a career makeover? Do you ask them to step it up in every single performance review? Does there seem to be a disconnect between an employee wanting to improve and his or her ability to actually make it happen? If so, you’re not alone.

While conducting research for our new book, “Change Anything: The New Science of Personal Success,” we found that 70% of employees who were aware that their manager was unhappy with their performance couldn’t tell you what they were doing wrong or how they were going to change.

Luckily, our research also led us to a model of change that managers can use to motivate and enable their employees to take control of their careers.

The vital behaviors of top performers

Thirty years ago, we began researching top performers to find out exactly what they did that was so different from their peers. While top performers did many things well, there were three behaviors they did far better and more consistently than everyone else.

Top performers:

  1. Know their stuff. They put regular effort into ensuring they excel at the technical aspects of their jobs. They work hard to hone their specific craft.
  2. Focus on the right stuff. Top performers contribute to tasks essential to the organization’s success. They earn direct access to critical tasks that the company values.
  3. Build a reputation for being helpful. Top performers are widely known and respected by others not because of their frequent contact, charm or likability, but because they help others solve problems.

Knowing how a top performer behaves is only the first step to improvement. Next comes implementing these behaviors on the job.

Creating a change plan

We mistakenly assume our success depends on the amount of willpower we can muster. Managers often regard employees who should — but don’t — change as lazy or unmotivated. However, neither assumption is correct.

There are six sources of influence that explain why we make the choices we do. Employees relying solely on willpower fail to consider the five other sources of influence that shape their actions. As a manager, it’s your job to help employees see the full gamut of their behavior. Use these six sources of influence to help employees adopt the behaviors of a top performer:

  1. Flash forward to the future. The best motivation is to help employees visit their default future — the career they’ll have if they’re repeatedly passed up for promotion. A 30-year-old employee earning $60,000 passed up for a promotion with a 2% raise will incur a lifetime loss of $59,780.
  2. Invest in professional development. New habits require new skills. Help employees actively develop the skills of a top performer through training, workshops or books.
  3. Hang with the hard-workers. The bad habits that hold people back are likely enabled or tolerated by others. Encourage struggling employees to associate with hard-working colleagues.
  4. Find a mentor. Changing habits requires help. If you can’t mentor a struggling employee, help her find a mentor who will encourage her progression and navigate career opportunities within the organization.
  5. Put skin in the game. Reward employees for reaching short-term goals by tying small bonuses, rewards or incentives to their ability to meet their goals in their next performance review.
  6. Control the workspace. Make employees’ new habits easier by enlisting the power of their surroundings. If they’d benefit from close association with another team, relocate their office space.

How to change anything

According to our research, those who follow this model for change by learning the vital behaviors of top performers, and then engaging all six sources of influence are 10 times more likely to succeed. When your change strategy is informed by good science, the differences in effectiveness are not incremental — they are exponential.

Image Credit: thesuperph via iStockphoto