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Are People Changeable, Or Are They Cast In Cement?
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Are People Changeable, Or Are They Cast In Cement?

Apr 11 2014, 8:17am CDT | by

One side of an endless debate in human resources holds that people are basically stuck.  As the old cartoon character Popeye would say, “I am what I am.”  The proverbial statements “a leopard can’t...

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14 weeks ago

Are People Changeable, Or Are They Cast In Cement?

Apr 11 2014, 8:17am CDT | by

One side of an endless debate in human resources holds that people are basically stuck.  As the old cartoon character Popeye would say, “I am what I am.”  The proverbial statements “a leopard can’t change its spots” or “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” reinforce that idea as well.  Then, on the other side, is the view that people have limitless potential for change. There are thousands of self-help books and the entire educational and development industry based on the premise that people have high abilities to grow and learn.

The debate would be merely interesting (or amusing) in the corporate world if it didn’t have such profound consequences on how people behave. There is interesting research emerging that shows managers who hold the view people can’t or won’t change are the ones who don’t pay much attention to the development of their subordinates. It makes perfect sense. If you don’t believe people have the capacity to change themselves to any significant degree, why bother investing time, money and effort in trying to develop them into something they’re not?

On the other hand, if you hold the view that humans are extremely malleable and that they can consciously improve a skill or acquire a new capability, it becomes worth the manager’s time to champion their employees’ development and play an active part in the process.

What does the data say?
Like many good debates, there’s data to support both points of view. Our company, Zenger Folkman, has a database of more than half a million 360 degree feedback instruments on about 50,000 managers and executives.  Some of these individuals have also gone through the 360 degree feedback process for a second time, after following a leadership development program./>

Forty-eight percent of those studied had scores that either stayed the same or declined over time. That could be taken as good evidence that people just don’t change all that much. (It may be cause by many other factors, however, including colleagues wanting to send an even stronger message or disappointment in the little change that had been observed.)

There’s another slightly larger group, however, that shows statistically significant higher scores over time.  These individuals’ scores have increased much more than chance would predict.  Anecdotally they will tell you they recognize a significant difference in their behavior between the 360 degree feedback events.  They may have become better listeners.  They often run more effective meetings.  They are far more diligent about coaching their subordinates.

Another group we find interesting are the individuals who received some shockingly low scores on some behaviors.  This has the effect of a whack on the side of the head in terms of getting a person’s attention.  These people more often made a deliberate decision to fix the scores that were obviously dragging down the way they were perceived.  We collected data on a group of those individuals, and the graph below shows the result.  This was a group of 71 leaders, each of whom had received at least one score that was at or below the 10th percentile on one or more of the 16 primary leadership competencies.  The leadership effectiveness percentile below is a composite of the total 16 competency scores.

Note the dramatic increase in overall effectiveness after a 12 to 18 month period of time.  Can people change?  This data sends a clear message that they can.
These changes also show up in improved employee engagement scores:
Lessons learned
What can we conclude from all of this? We think there are some simple and powerful lessons in these results./>/>/>/>/>

1. Those who receive a strong message are the most motivated to change, and most especially to change a behavior that distracts significantly from their overall performance.

2. Those who want to change can also make changes.  While not always dramatic in magnitude, these changes occur because the individual has decided the change is important. This seems primarily to be a matter of will.

3. Many people don’t change, or they  receive lower scores on a second 360 degree feedback process for a number of reasons. It may be that people wanted to send an even stronger signal to them the second time. Or they don’t want to improve. Maybe nothing grabs their attention and gives them a motivation to change.

Our conclusion is this:  If you have been a leader in the camp that believes that people can’t change, we invite you to rethink your assumptions. There’s good evidence that people can make dramatic changes in their behavior. It is a choice. Our research also confirms that the manager’s involvement and interest in the development of subordinates is a powerful force towards make successful change happen.

In other words, your belief in whether subordinates can improve and change is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Based on this evidence, for may reader it is their underlying belief system that requires the primary change.

To read more about this study go to the Zenger Folkman Leadership Resource Center . Please join this discussion on self-improvement below or on my Twitter , Facebook , or LinkedIn .

How to Overcome Your Fear of Change at Work

 
Update
10

6 weeks ago

RM47mil KWSG contributions still unclaimed

Jun 9 2014 7:54am CDT | Source: Business Times Malaysia

Cambodia's Famous Battambang Circus
KUALA LUMPUR: About RM47 million of contributions in the Teachers Provident Fund (KWSG) still remain unclaimed, the Dewan ...
Source: Business Times Malaysia   Full article at: Business Times Malaysia
 

 
Update
9

6 weeks ago

Gold shop lost almost RM1mil

Jun 9 2014 3:50am CDT | Source: Business Times Malaysia

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Source: Business Times Malaysia   Full article at: Business Times Malaysia
 

 
Update
8

6 weeks ago

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Jun 9 2014 3:39am CDT | Source: Business Times Malaysia

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KUALA LUMPUR: AN emergency motion to debate the losses incurred by Malaysia Airlines last year, amounting to RM1.2 billion was rej ...
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Update
7

6 weeks ago

MH370 Tragedy: Hisham: RM27.6 mil spent on 1st phase of SAR

Jun 9 2014 2:11am CDT | Source: Business Times Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia spent some RM27.6 million in its first phase of the search operations for missing Malaysia Airline flight MH370, said Acting Transport Minister, Datuk Seri Hishammudd ...
Source: Business Times Malaysia   Full article at: Business Times Malaysia
 

 
Update
6

6 weeks ago

9.1m litres of diesel seized in a month

Jun 8 2014 1:11am CDT | Source: Business Times Malaysia

INDIA-CHINA-DIPLOMACY-TRADE
PUTRAJAYA: The Domestic Trade, Cooperatives, and Consumerism ministry has seized some 9.1 million litres of diesel and property worth RM58 million since mounting ‘Operasi Diesel Selatan’ in the southern ...
Source: Business Times Malaysia   Full article at: Business Times Malaysia
 

 
Update
5

6 weeks ago

Girl, 9, awarded RM2.78m compensation for medical negligence

Jun 6 2014 4:56am CDT | Source: Business Times Malaysia

Government Weekly Cabinet Meeting
KUALA LUMPUR: A nine-year-old girl who suffered brain damage during her birth at a government hospital was awarded over RM2.78 mi ...
Source: Business Times Malaysia   Full article at: Business Times Malaysia
 

 
Update
4

6 weeks ago

Malaysia's total trade in April up 12pc

Jun 5 2014 11:52pm CDT | Source: Business Times Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia's total trade in April 2014 rose by 12 per cent from a year ago to RM123.86 billion due to growing trading activities, International Trade and Industry Minister Da ...
Source: Business Times Malaysia   Full article at: Business Times Malaysia
 

 
Update
3

7 weeks ago

Works Ministry to spend RM20m for upgrading works at 50 accident black spots

Jun 4 2014 11:35pm CDT | Source: Business Times Malaysia

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JOHOR BARU: The Works Ministry will implement upgrading works at 50 accident prone locations in the country that have been identified this year involving an allocation of RM2 ...
Source: Business Times Malaysia   Full article at: Business Times Malaysia
 

 
Update
2

7 weeks ago

Najib launches loan scheme for Ramadan traders

Jun 4 2014 10:24pm CDT | Source: Business Times Malaysia

EurAsia Cup presented by DRB-HICOM - Day One
PUTRAJAYA: Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak today launches RM45 million Ramadan Bazaar ...
Source: Business Times Malaysia   Full article at: Business Times Malaysia
 

 
Update
1

7 weeks ago

Residents bring up objection against Kidex to Suhakam

Jun 4 2014 4:49am CDT | Source: Business Times Malaysia

PETALING JAYA: A group of 20 Petaling Jaya residents held a meeting with the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) over their objection against the proposed RM2.2 billion Kinrara D ...
Source: Business Times Malaysia   Full article at: Business Times Malaysia
 

 

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