Knowledge Doesn’t Change People’s Behavior – Great Leaders Do

To celebrate the Holiday Season, we will publish a blog post every weekday until the Christmas Eve. The December blog series will examine the changing landscape of leadership and management. Various guest writers will bring their expertise to the blog, and we will cover such topics as customer experience, sales, marketing, business intelligence, employee engagement and thought leadership from management point of view.

Knowledge Doesn’t Change People’s Behavior – Great Leaders DoDuring the last couple of years, I’ve taken part in the workforce survey conducted by the Statistics Finland. What this means is that they’ve asked me a few questions on the phone concerning the workforce in Finland. In return for my answers this year, I received an interesting and nifty booklet titled “Finland in Figures 2014”. The booklet contains a huge amount of figures and graphs that can be used to make fascinating observations.

Let’s assume that you work as a sales manager in a macaroni manufacturer in the food industry. In that case you might actually be interested, when your manager tells you that according to the index, the price of groceries and non-alcoholic beverages has increased 17.7 percent since 2010 (booklet p. 3). Your manager also lets you know that at the same time the average price of 400-gram macaroni package has increased 4.9 percent, from 0.41 euros to 0.43 euros (p. 4). Do you feel like you’re being managed here? Is this true leadership in action?

Of course not. The act of managing should have consequences. Either you should change your behavior or make a conscious decision to carry on your work in the same way as before. I argue that this hugely significant piece of information didn’t get you to strive for higher macaroni package prices in sales negotiations, and it most likely didn’t encourage you to actively seek new ideas to grow the sales volume of your key accounts. You shouldn’t feel bad for not taking action. You’re just acting like all of us. You’re human.

On average, people don’t change their behavior based on knowledge, because that is not the natural way for us to act. How many children will put away their toys immediately after playing with them, if you tell them that the room is messy? Not one of them.

Knowledge as such doesn’t affect our actions; the reason for behavior change lies elsewhere. C-level executives don’t change their actions just because they’ve heard the profits have decreased. The need to alter behavior is caused by the triggers related to the fact that there is a decrease in profits. For the executive, the decrease in profits could, for example, mean that:

  • the goal is running away,
  • he might lose his authority,
  • there are less resources to execute the business plan or
  • he won’t get his bonuses.

If the situation would be the other way around, the increase in profits would give the executive a feeling of gratification. The same triggers are now producing positive feelings. Few of us voluntarily seek situations, where you could hurt your own feelings.

You need knowledge to understand, which direction you should manage the behaviors. But don’t believe in the illusion that you could actually manage or lead with knowledge. You can only manage and lead people, not things. In order to influence people’s actions, you should first find out, what triggers them to change their behavior and what are the things that make them feel gratified.

We constantly work with client projects, in which we use knowledge to understand the current situation of the organization. After seeing the big picture, we advise our clients to manage and lead people by influencing their motivation factors. This can be done with or without technology.