Do we start with behaviour or mind?

My thanks to my friends at Praxis for prompting this blog. I pondered upon this yesterday only because of a Praxis Framework post via LinkedIn yesterday (thanks Adrian). With some ironic confirmation of one argument or the other (you are invited to ponder upon which) I did not even think to blog this answer – I just responded via LinkedIn. It can be inferred that I have fallen out of the habit of daily blogging, so I have been prompted (via intrinsic motivation or external impetus) to respond more fully here.

What was offered is a position outlined by Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith:

Start with changing behaviours, not mindsets. It is much easier to ‘act your way into new thinking’ than to ‘think your way into new actions’

Jon Katzenbach and Douglas Smith (1993) via Praxis website

Followed by an invitation for response by anyone who disagreed. I am not committing to disagreeing, but I did have an alternative acadamic perspecive I wanted to share.

This behaviour not mindset approach is in line with behaviourists sentiment. But it would be quite wrong of me to suggest this 1993 book, or even this quote, are behaviourist inspired. As explained in the Praxis summary this quote is advocating a specific “beginning with behaviour” approach to an underperforming or “pseudo” team. Per this same Praxis post this is also referencing Katzenbach et al and their Team Performance Curve. Accordingly, that is not to say Katzenbach et al are advocating behaviour first for already effective or high performing teams. My argument is that this is with good reason.

Social Psychology considerations

This is a prompt to wider psychological consideration of what, in team context, is influencing behaviour, or indeed what behaviour is influencing toward mindset. I (re)introduce below several theories from social psychology, countering particularly considerations of reward and punishment as go-to behavioural controls (cf. BF Skinner’s operant conditioning e.g., here).

I am going to group a number of principles of cognition together into the term mindset. Some latitude is asked therefore as I introduce various abstract notions of cognition. Concepts such as attitude, motivation, intent, or belief. Precisely the abstract and subjective concepts that behaviourists would argue is the reason cognitive psychology is flawed. But also precisely what is, to developmental psychologists, what children from as young as eighteen months are becoming subjectively aware of when they distinguish their perspective from that of another (cf. Theory of Mind e.g., here).

These comments are an expansion of my response on LinkedIn. I have also crossed referenced a number of blogs I have previously offered in this regard.

Behaviourists beware

Intrinsic Motivation (IM) is easily replaced by external incentive – mindset orientation changing behaviour. [This is in reference to Self Determination Theory – see my blog Motivation vs Coercion]. We want to encourage personal ownership and motivation. Throwing cash at a problem, or forcing compliance, can backfire if well functioning teams are suddenly just driven to a big pay-out (how many times do we have to see that…).

Predicting behaviour may necessarily require consideration of attitude. And attitude may be best established against specifics rather than general conditions. Icek Ajzen and Martin Fishbein considering belief, intentions, and actions and in later work surmising that individual sense of control plays a part (cf. Reasoned Action – see my blog).

Context is key. No single factor is going to change behaviour – and beliefs, intentions, or past events have a place within mindset

The Elaboration Likelihood Model would suggest it is only in situations of peripheral attention that low cognitive engagement thresholds will be applied (e.g., fearful or trusting) – an alternative is heuristics. That being the case it is only in conditions of low cognitive engagement that a team is going to accept behavioural change first – accordingly, unless fear is a 21st century tool of choice you can justify, or as leaders you are offering a high level of trust to an underperforming team, simply attempting behavioural correction is not going to bring the central (and cognitive) attention required.

As to persuasion, one may also need to consider who is saying what to whom before accounting for change in mindset or behaviour. [This is in reference to the work of Carl Hovland and Yale in the 1950s which explained propaganda variables and influenced the advertising tactics we still all buy into today]. Persuasion needs a receptive audience, a convincing message, and the right seller to convey what is being sold.

Cognitive Dissonance Theory (Leon Festinger 1947) would suggest changing attitude, cognitive reappraisal, or changing behaviour can each apply to resolving two conflicting perspectives (assuming one has a choice). Which of these is changed may be specific to any of the factors described above. [This sits within a wider notion of the Three Motives Ontology – see my blog Motivated Behaviours. Cognitive Dissonance Theory also sits within the paradigm of attitude, persuasion and change].

In summary

It is important to attend to behaviours. It is critical as a leadership role. But have in mind the many moving parts beyond behaviour itself. Being SMART with you team and instilling an intrinsically motivated team ethos requires the winning of both hearts and minds.

Finally, if you have made it this far – that’s motivated behaviour I cannot help but applaud. Thank you. But if you made it here without checking out Praxis, you really should. Here, let me save you some time.