You Cannot Change People

Do you have an employee who has the skills they need, but is not proactive about using them? Maybe you have someone who is talented, but cannot work well with others? Perhaps you have a team member who is disruptive in the office but who, for various reasons, you cannot fire?

Don’t try to change them as a person; instead, try changing behavior.

Changing People

If you try to change an employee’s personality, you are likely to fail. Your employees’ personalities developed over many years, based on their family situation, social culture, educational experiences, professional background, and also the undefinable “quality” inside each of us that makes us who we are.

As their boss, you are unlikely to change all that.

People certainly grow and develop over the years. That development, though, is usually driven internally, not by someone else. You can provide experiences that may shape their personality, but you cannot identify an “endpoint” for them, and then guide them to that destination.

This is more true the older they are. Once people get into patterns of thinking, they develop an outlook on the world. That outlook determines how they interact with others. The lazy employee, or the one who yells at others, has a worldview in which that is acceptable. Good luck changing that worldview.

Changing Behavior

While you may not be able to change an employee’s personality, you CAN change how that personality is expressed. Changing behavior is a far more practical approach.

One approach is to channel their personality into something useful. For example, let’s say you have a team member who always complains about processes and policies. The next time they complain about something, give them the task of finding a better way to do it. Some of their possible outcomes are:

  • realizing that complaining leads to more work, so they stop complaining
  • learning that the current process actually is the best way to do it within current constraints
  • coming up with a better way of doing things that you had not considered

No matter which of these outcomes occurs, you win.

You might also put up boundaries that limits their disruptive behavior. For example, if you have an unmotivated employee, give them more detailed KPIs than you would to someone else. If they cannot set and meet standards on their own, then set the standards for them. When you have someone who is routinely disruptive in the office, see if a “remote work” option is available. If a team member tends to get meetings off-track with irrelevant stories, send out an agenda before a meeting and use that to bring people back onto the subject when they get off. If someone’s behavior is unhelpful, look for ways to limit that behavior, or at least limit its impact.

You May Already Be Doing This

You will rarely be able to change someone’s personality, but you can try changing behaviors. We do this all the time by creating policies that people need to follow, like defined office hours, vacation policies, and other ways. If you have someone whose behavior is counterproductive, then take that concept further as you try to change their behavior in the workplace.

When it comes to changing personalities, leave that to their spouse. They may not have any more luck than you, but that’s what they signed up for when they married them.