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How To Help People Take the First Steps

by Jennifer McCoy

"You can do whatever you set your mind to" and "We all have a choice about our behaviour...". We’ve all read or heard the challenges issued by the professional motivators, all entrepreneurial and highly successful. Sounds easy, and it's obviously worked for them, hasn't it?

So why can't you get it to work? Why don't your staff immediately take to the changes you initiate? You've clearly explained how much better things will be if they do but still no change. They get to work late or fail to complete reports on time or irritate other staff, even though they admit life would be easier all round if they changed.

You can probably ask the same question of yourself. Why is it that you don't achieve your own personal dreams?

The reality is our resistance to change is often far greater than our dissatisfaction with the current situation or the vision of where we'd like to go. Resistance grounded in emotional costs, voiced in questions like "What would I need to give up?" or "What happens if I fail?" or "I'd never be able to do that!" or "Where would I start?"

Those first steps! "Where would I start?" As a manager or team leader, if you want your staff to change, you need to help them take the First Steps - and then support them as they go.

The First Steps might be different for each person, the kind of support needed also different. Remember too, those First Steps for one person might seem quite fundamental for you, but don't discount their importance for that person. That's where coaching comes in. Coaching is about change, helping people to change the way they operate so they feel more confident, get on better with others, achieve more for themselves and the organization.

How can you coach someone take their First Steps towards change? As a coach you can guide them to understand what is not working for them, to choose the First Steps for change that are best for them and then to accept responsibility for keeping to their commitments. You can certainly point out the consequences of them not changing the way they operate and will need to ensure they meet their commitments, but they can negotiate the First Steps.

Try asking what they believe they can do to start? What would be the First Step they could take to see what the change feels like, to see if they can manage? For a time management problem the First Step might be as simple as buying an alarm clock, or leaving earlier to get to work. Not so foolish as they sound. It might also be learning how a diary can be used.

For a communication problem with other staff it might be accepting that everyone has a part to play in a team and the right to an opinion. The First Step might be making a commitment to not interrupt a speaker and then to ask a question instead of voicing their own opinion. You might need to suggest a question eg: "Could you explain that more?", making sure to underline the importance of using the right tone of voice. You may need to suggest the words to say that both acknowledge opinions and allow a segue into a different approach eg: "That sounds interesting. How would that work if...". Tact and diplomacy are usually acquired skills.

Lastly you need to establish the commitment to take those First Steps. What exactly do they plan to do? When will they start? What might cause them problems in keeping the commitment? How will you and they monitor and review progress?

To be successful, change usually occurs with small steps. Now see what you need to do to take your own First Steps to achieve your goals.

Learn the skills to coach your own staff to improve their performance.