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Don’t rely on old fashioned methods if you want real change in your professional life or organization | Mar 23, 2013

Real change (def.): a change that is sustainable because the deeper but hidden underlying factors that kept change from occurring are corrected.

Too many organizations want real change but over rely on outdated methods that bring no or fleeting change. Let’s review the three most common complaints I hear from executive leaders:

-our work culture is not accountable and productive enough
-our managers do not get the most out of their direct reports
-our lack of coherence on our leadership team is keeping us from breaking through to a new level of results

All three of these complaints can be corrected, but not by using the common but superficial methods that never get to the roots of the problem. I will get to the solution shortly, but first let’s recognize the “go to’s” that you likely use that DO NOT WORK.

Historically, business influencers in an organization, typically at the C-suite level, will try to bring about change in one of three failing ways. One way is they will have motivational talks with managers in hopes that a fireside chat can change hearts and minds. This is a popular but misguided method often.

For real change to take hold, what needs to be identified are the assumptions/beliefs/attitudes that have held that professional or organization back. Don’t talk “at a problem” until you first seek to understand the roots of the problem. Conversations, no matter how direct (or threatening), do not typically utilize the deeper awareness and precision needed to identify the specific and multiple factors keeping the problem going. I call these companies “The Dinosaurs”; they are dying out because their competitors are using behavioral science to more precisely and quickly cut into the root of the problem.

A second way organizational leaders will try to bring change is by using some program they read about which sounded compelling. I call these companies “The Amateurs”. They think that from reading and following a manual or structure they can create a meaningful and lasting change. While these books sell like hotcakes, they often bring nothing more than a few days of change. Even when there is a training day or a mini-retreat, even with an outside facilitator who is an “expert” on organizational change, results often fizzle. Why? Because what is the most critical place to start is a concise understanding of the complexity of the problem. Most often problems are due to a set of “intangibles” that come in the firm of attitudes, beliefs, and/or habits that are entrenched.

The problem is these retreats are often more like an extended version of the motivational speech, it’s just that the facilitator can charge more because more time is being spent on some 5-step program they have chosen to use that day. The problem: their five step program is not tailored to the 6 attitudes that are holding the organization back.

To discover what these attitudes are, you need a highly trained behavioral scientist who can ask the right questions and collate data to discern the patterns in need of change.

Now, what does work? Behavioral science 101: if you want to change behavior, first understand what thoughts and feelings are derailing the professional or organization. To do this, you need to know what questions to ask, and what precise scientific tools to use. There are 100’s of tools out there, which ones do you use??? The key factors can be identified quickly and in a cost-effective manner providing a high ROI, if you use a “surgical consultant;” who knows how to cut into the problem to reveal its heart. You need a consultant who chooses their tools carefully, rather than saying they always use the Myers-Briggs. Often, the consultants who say they only use one tool are over-trusting one tool instead of being masterful technicians with a toolbox.

There is an old story that goes like this: A man brings his car into a shop, and then says the engine needs fixing. The mechanic starts up the engine and then taps on the engine three times, and says, “That will be $50.00.” The man says, “What, all you did was tap on the engine!”. The mechanic replies, “Yes, but I knew where to tap”. You need to use a consultant whose has deep and broad behavioral science knowledge such that they can tap on your or your organization’s engine precisely, so they leave a minimal footprint but a lasting change.

Real change does involve changing hearts and minds, but begins with uncovering the often hidden or camouflaged set of assumptions/beliefs/etc that drove the problematic thinking and feelings that in turn kept behavior from producing the desired result.

If you are thinking of using an external consultant, but are not sure whether they are worth it, ask them about what level of scientific training they have, how in-depth their knowledge of personality functioning is, and most of all, what training/expertise they have undergone to know where to tap. In short, to what degree are they a true behavioral scientist?

Too many coaches of executives pride themselves on being credentialed by some organization, while they have never taken one class in how to analyze social science data. But the best consultants root their professional identity most deeply in the using process of science to truly help others reach their potential. THis is a complex process that demands mush more than salesmanship and charisma, it demands a “roll your sleeves up and
collect the right data” philosophy. Choose consultants who have a track record of utilizing a scientific toolbox. Or, expect results that fizzle.

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If you or your organization are faced with a workplace growth challenge, email Tom and he will consider writing a blog about it.

Meet the Expert: Dr. Tom Brunner is a capable executive level consultant who has worked with local and nationally known organizations including Carondelet Healthcare, Tucson Electric Power, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Discovery Channel. Tom is a published behavioral science expert and is the Founder and Principal of Performance Edge Solutions. He is a licensed psychologist and a member of the Society of Consulting Psychologists. He has been an invited speaker at national conferences and local organizations such as University Medical Center, Tucson, AZ. Tom is humbled by the fact that in 2010 he was awarded the Arizona Psychological Foundations Early Career Psychologist Award. He is the senior author of a personality tool that has been adapted into seven languages. To see a 60-second video introducing his consulting firm click here, to read his bio click here, and to review his recent blogs, click here.