Have you ever been able to successfully change someone?
Maybe you have a teenager who was born without the gene responsible for keeping bedrooms clean—but with a little pressure (nagging, threatening…) you have been able to get him to pick up his laundry.
Or you could have a spouse who is so extremely chatty that it seems impossible to leave a party when you are ready to go—but with a little prodding you have been able to shuffle your beloved to the door more quickly.
But did you change them?
Is your teenager now neat and tidy? Is your spouse suddenly less social?
What about you?
Have you ever been able to successfully change yourself?
I’m not talking about trying to eat healthier, work out more, call your mom more often, or walk the dogs regularly (although those would be great accomplishments as well!).
I’m talking about really changing how you’re wired, altering your knee-jerk reactions to things, actually changing your natural patterns of thought, feeling, and behavior.
If you were shy and reserved, have you turned yourself into an outgoing extrovert?
If you were extremely competitive, have you made yourself into someone who truly doesn’t care if you win or lose?
Or vice versa?
If you were extremely opinionated and assertive by nature, have you completely shaken the impulse to interject your thoughts into every conversation (short of sitting on your hands and taping your mouth shut)?
That is because people do not change! Look at your New Year’s resolutions for the last 5, 10, or 15 years if you need a little more evidence.
Although I am telling you that people don’t change, I want to make sure to add that the way in which we display our behaviors will often change over time. As we mature and gain a better understanding of appropriate behavior, we become better at presenting ourselves in a way that is palatable for others.
So while highly competitive children become highly competitive adults who are just as upset as ever if they lose, most learn to leave the temper tantrums behind on the playground and deal with their disappointment at the office in subtler ways. Although that competitive salesperson is not kicking and screaming on the floor of their cubicle when they don’t get that big sale, they are equally as affected by the loss as they were all those years ago.
People don’t change.
So what does that mean for you as a manager?
There are quite a few valuable takeaways for you here:
You need to hire people who have the behaviors that you need from the get-go.
Because people don’t change, you need to spend the time and effort before you make your next hire to ensure that you are bringing someone on board who has the natural behaviors that you need in the position. Do you need someone who is highly competitive, who’s hungry to hit the streets and beat the competition? Hire someone with that behavior rather than convincing yourself that you can come up with the right sales contest or incentive to make them that way.
Instead of wasting your time trying to “fix” someone, consider how you can help them to work around the things that are getting in their way.
You need to stop banging your head against the wall trying to make your employees into something they’re not. It’s an uphill battle you will never win. Instead, ask yourself if there is a way to help them work around that area of weakness by using one of their strengths. For example, if a salesperson lacks the courage to ask tough questions or to push a customer to make a smart decision—but they have strong discipline and they are great at following a plan when they feel prepared—you could spend time with them before a sales call role-playing, to ensure they believe in what they are selling and feel ready for anything the customer may ask.
There is enormous ROI on your coaching time if you spend it tightly focused on talents.
With a clear understanding of an individual’s natural and consistent behaviors, you can help them to become great at what they do. When we’re functioning in an area where we have natural talent, our performance can improve by as much as a factor of ten. Imagine the profound effect you could have if you invested time and focused attention on their strengths, exploring how fabulous they can become. It could be life- and career-changing!
So take a deep breath and find the joy in knowing that your job as a manager is not to change the people who work for you—an impossible task. Your job is to ensure that the people you hire in the future have the innate talents that align with the requirements of that job, while also helping your people to use their natural gifts to keep their weaknesses from getting in the way.