Every workplace has some behavior they need to change. Whether it’s getting the sales team to improve their success rate by relying on what they know rather than whom they know, or whether it’s training front-line employees to be better at customer service, behavior change is serious business. And it’s incredibly hard not only to achieve, but to sustain. U.S. businesses alone spent nearly $68 billion with external suppliers in 2011 (according to the January 2012 Bersin “Corporate Learning Factbook”) on learning and development, so it’s essential that their investment works for the long-term.

In order to truly change behavior, senior stakeholders must first agree on which behaviors will drive successful execution of their strategy, and equally important, how those behaviors will be measured.

The importance of this step cannot be overstated because lack of management’s commitment is the chief reason why change is not sustained in most organizations.

To that issue, we hear three common complaints from organizations failing at changing – and sustaining – new behaviors:

  1. “Executive-level politics and turf wars.” Advocating for one’s ideas as well as defending one’s turf can be a healthy expression of creativity and responsibility. But turf wars and politics can turn destructive when employees believe that one can only win if others lose and vice versa. Sometimes this us-versus-them mentality can become epic battles to the death or energy-draining intrigues at court within executive suites. To counteract infighting, focus on how your ideas (which require others to cooperate and change) will actually generate more value, thus creating an “expanding pie” from which everyone stands to gain. This is a powerful use of a technique known as “reframing.”
  2. “Lack of clarity around roles and responsibilities.” As leaders buy into an initiative and jointly develop a plan to execute it, they must also establish a means to measure progress. Explicit measurements lead to discussion and clarity about who is responsible for what. It has the added benefit of bringing the resource-allocation issues to the table, so that those who are defining and accepting responsibility for driving results have the resources and time they believe they need. This brings us to the third common complaint we hear.
  3. “Lack of prioritization, or too many initiatives, to effect change.” Managers who focus on only a vital few priorities are extraordinarily effective at accomplishing them and getting others on the bandwagon because it’s clear what is important to the boss. This concept also applies to behavior change or other learning initiatives. 

Companies that successfully drive behavior change avoid these three common complaints. They do so because they establish a common framework in which the value of the change to all is clear and compelling, roles are defined, and the critical, few priorities are agreed upon.