Behavior Change 101: Simple strategies to dramatically improve your work performance

Behavior Change 101: Simple strategies to dramatically improve your work performance

Devin is a recruitment team lead at a recruiting firm in Atlanta, Georgia. In his role, Devin is expected to maintain positive relationships with existing clients and ensure that his team provides a stream of high quality candidates to fill his client’s job openings. He has a very brash and energetic management style and he consistently drives his team to pursue excellence. Although many of his behavioral traits are commendable and allow him to be an effective lead, he does have some negative traits that have caused turmoil within his team. Devin can be very demanding and when his expectations aren’t met, he can be very degrading. He also has a bad habit of talking badly about other coworkers behind their backs. These two behavioral traits have caused his direct reports and other co-workers to become resentful of him.

When his boss took him aside and told him he needed to address these issues, he knew he had to make a change. How can Devin remain an effective team lead while improving his other less appealing behavioral traits? Behavioral change is never easy and it takes commitment on your end to make the change permanent. In this article we’ll go over some strategies you can use to address a negative behavior, devise a plan to eliminate it and replace the behavior with something more positive.

Discovering your Triggers

Behavior Change - Triggers

In the book “Triggers” by Dr. Marshall Goldsmith, Dr.Goldsmith analyzes the significance of triggers in driving change. A trigger is defined as any stimulus that may impact our behavior. In order to change a bad behavior, you must first discover what triggers your bad behavior. An example of a trigger could be “whenever you’re in a social situation (trigger) you feel compelled to drink (action)”. In the case of Devin, his trigger may be “when his co-workers don’t complete a task the way he wanted it done (trigger) he says a degrading comment (action)”. Now that he knows what his trigger is, he can go about changing the action he gives in response. This means that the next time a co-worker doesn’t complete a task the way he wanted it done, he can catch himself before making a degrading comment and provide more constructive feedback.

Controlling your environment

Behavior Change - Control Environment

Another great point made in the book is the need to control your environment when attempting to make a life change. Just as a person trying to quit smoking shouldn’t surround herself with chain smokers, you too must eliminate negative influences in your life that inhibit change. Sometimes, this decision can be very difficult and may result in you falling out with old friends and family. If you want to succeed in anything you do, you must commit to making sure that your day-day environment is consistent with what you want to accomplish. In the case of Devin, he could be spending too much time around negative people who talk negatively about their co-workers (environment). If Devin is serious about making this behavioral change, he will have to remove himself from that toxic environment and place himself in a more positive and engaging environment.

Asking active questions

Behavior Change - Active Questions

This is an activity I started last week and it’s impressive how powerful this strategy can be for determining how you’re performing in various areas of your life. In many of his lectures, Dr.Goldsmith explains how he has someone call him every night to listen to him answer a list of active questions and grade himself on his performance for the day. Active questions such as “Did I do my best to be happy today?” are extremely effective at gauging performance because it places the responsibility of performing the action solely on you. The awareness gained from your responses can set you on a path to make positive changes in your life.

In the case of Devin, if he asks himself the question “Did I do my best to build positive relationships?” and his answer is NO for too many days in a row, he knows that he needs to make a change in that area to improve his life. Dr. Goldsmith recently surveyed over 2000 people who participated in his active question challenge and the results were truly amazing. Almost 98% of participants who followed his active question routine for 3 months said that they improved in at least one of the categories they were measuring!! Below I’ve provided a list of 6 active questions you can ask yourself today!


1) “Did I do my best to set clear goals?”

2) “Did I do my best to make progress towards my goals?”

3) “Did I do my best to find meaning at work?”

4) “Did I do my best to be happy?”

5) “Did I do my best to build positive relationships?”

6) “Did I do my best to be fully engaged?”

Establish more structure

From the time we are born we rely on structure to ensure that certain actions are performed daily. From brushing your teeth in the morning, going to work and going to the gym in the afternoon these activities are structured into our day. In the book “The Checklist Manifesto” by Atul Gawande of Harvard Medical school, Dr.Gawande points out that when nurses read a sanitation checklist to doctors before a surgical procedure, the risk of death due to unnecessary infection is reduced by almost 2/3. This goes to show how valuable adding a little structure into a task can be.

In Devin’s case, he could keep a checklist near his desk to remind himself not to talk badly about coworkers. If he gets through a whole day without engaging in this negative activity, he could check off the item on the list. This structure helps facilitate the change and makes it easier for him to make the change permanent. How could you apply this checklist principle into your daily routine to help eliminate some of your negative behavioral traits?

Bringing it all together

After the discussion with his boss, Devin decided he was going to make positive changes to his behavior at work. He first discovered each of his triggers and made a commitment to change how he responded to each one. As part of the process of changing his bad behavior of talking poorly about co-workers, Devin stopped hanging out with people at work who would complain about other co-workers. This made Devin feel more positive and made him more tolerable to others at work. At night he would ask himself various active questions to grade his performance for the day and would take notes on what he could improve on for the next day. Devin would also keep a bad behavior checklist by his desk and check off each item when he refrained from engaging in the activity during the day.

After a few months of this routine, Devin began to make progress towards changing his behavior and eventually eliminated those bad behaviors altogether. His boss, co-workers and subordinates have taken notice and Devin is well on his way to building his new tolerant persona. Making positive changes in life is always tough and doesn’t happen overnight. However, if you commit to utilizing the information in this article to clean up some of your bad behavior you’ll be better for it.

P.S. My book recommendation for this article is “Triggers” by Marshall Goldsmith. In the book, Dr. Goldsmith analyzes how triggers in our environment drive the actions we perform. He shares insights on how to make positive behavioral changes in your life and maintain them long-term. This was a very eye-opening book for me and I highly recommend it. I’ve provided a link to the book below:

Check out “Triggers” by Dr. Marshall Goldsmith