Change Behaviors, Not Beliefs

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In order to create more diverse and inclusive cultures, leaders need to learn how to change behaviors, rather than focus on changing beliefs.

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As we’ve written before, the mantra of Bring your full self to work can create challenges.

Organizations may have good intentions in promoting diversity and inclusion. But certain employees’ full selves don’t necessarily mesh with those of their peers. And when that happens — as Google has found over the last year — teams may splinter off into smaller and smaller groups, rather than band together.

At NLI, we find this splintering happens because leaders fundamentally over-index on beliefs. They care a great deal about instilling the right philosophies and priorities, so that people unite around common goals. The truth is, organizations can and should create common goals that have nothing to do with personal ideology. But to do that, leaders need to shift their focus away from beliefs, and instead toward behaviors.

Khalil Smith, NLI’s Vice President of Consulting, recently wrote about this shift in Forbes.

“Ultimately, behaviors drive much of what we experience,” Khalil wrote. “Intent can be relevant, but impact is paramount.”

Culture change through behavior change

NLI defines culture as “shared everyday habits.” What people do, together, on a regular basis, forms an organization’s culture. If people routinely show up early and leave late, working tirelessly in between, we can reasonably call that culture hard-working. Not everyone might believe in that culture, but people’s sentiments about a culture don’t change the fact a given culture exists.

For Khalil — and NLI as a whole — changing culture then comes down to changing behaviors. In a diversity and inclusion context, that means changing people’s habits around hiring, project planning, performance conversations, and so on. It doesn’t mean promoting groupthink around a core belief.

“Getting someone to care can feel good in the moment, because it creates a salient story or an emotional moment,” Khalil writes, “but that care doesn’t reliably translate into changed behavior.”

Click here to check out Khalil’s full article on Forbes, “Don’t Change Beliefs, Change Behaviors.”

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