Behaviour change is not the responsibility of L&D

Black board with arrow left saying Old way, arrow right New way

It’s hard to miss the growing interest and need for behaviour change. Traditional approaches have focused on training people and telling them what to do. We’re more aware than ever that behaviour is a complex thing: it does not happen because we are told to. Behaviour change is an internal process, where we become aware and then decide how to apply that new knowledge.

As L&D we need to review how behaviour change is attempted within organisations. This cannot be forced upon them; it must come from them because behaviour is a personal thing: We have compliance behaviour training, behaviour skills training, behaviour awareness training… But experience shows that these methods simply don’t work in isolation.

At the heart of behaviour change is awareness, understanding and skills to facilitate the changes. We need to get people into that internal process where they become aware and then decide their new learning. This cannot be forced upon them; it must come from them because behaviour is a personal thing

If we accept the position that behaviour is personal, it is therefore logical to conclude that the change is also personal. This makes the standard ‘sheep dip’ approach illogical, and counterproductive.

Once the awareness is there, it is then all about application. Sending people to class, and then them returning to the same environment, with the current behaviour norms still in place, is a recipe for disaster.

Behaviour change needs to have a holistic and individual approach.

Here some things to consider when looking to create behavioural change

Clarity on the behaviours

What are the new behaviours that are required? All too often behaviours are described with words that have multiple meaning to different people. As an example, we may want to create more ‘Collaboration.’ We need to get an understanding of what we mean by collaboration, what is the definition and potential behaviours that would look like.

We can then move onto behaviour itself. In behaviour terms, the behaviour is the ‘what’ and the context around it is the ‘how.’ To help with behaviour change we need to look for ways for people to learn their behaviour in a way they understand.

Collaboration, for example may be defined as sharing ideas with others to achieve agreed goals.

Individual understanding

Instead of going for the ‘telling’ of behaviour change, we should look at ways of providing the opportunity for individuals to ‘explore’ what that behaviour means to them. This provides the opportunity for individuals to make sense of their behaviour and the behaviour of others. It also gives them an opportunity to explore what impacts behaviour has on themselves, others, and the organisation.

This may link in with some form of awareness training (although it does not have to be). Here people are provided with information that and opportunities that stimulates thoughts and conversations around behaviour change.

As an example, let’s look at ‘Respect.’ What does respect mean to an individual, and how can they feel comfortable demonstrating it. But also, raise the awareness about what respect could mean to others, and how they can demonstrate that too.

Opportunity to practice

Behaviour change rarely happens overnight. It requires replacing existing behaviours, or habits with new ones. It is vital that there are appropriate and adequate opportunities for individuals to practice and receive feedback on the application of these new behaviours.

This is easier to achieve when there is an understanding of what the behaviours will look like. behaviour change behaviour requires behaviour observation. This is key to behaviour change work.

Observing behaviour provides opportunities for people to receive feedback enabling them to re-think and or adapt their behaviour.

This requires several layers of feedback, ranging from self-reflection to peer feedback and from line managers and perhaps stakeholders.

Encourage feedback that includes identification and celebrates successful application of behaviours, rather than concentrating on the examples of poor behaviour.


This is not behaviour change as such, but behaviour impact. We should always consider existing systems and processes that influence behaviour. It is therefore important to assess how supportive they are in encouraging the new behaviours.

We need to consider organisational culture, leadership behaviour’s and how these shapes behaviour. Organisations also have procurement practices, rewards, and recognition systems, as well as development practices.

These all need to be considered when behaviour change is being introduced.

These systems and processes are part of the cultural fabric of the organisation. And they therefore heavily influence behaviours and expected behaviours.

If behaviour change is to occur, then it will be necessary to create new systems that support behaviour change. These could include processes for performance appraisals, reward and recognition, recruitment, promotion, and succession planning.


Behaviour change is not achieved in isolation, it requires a holistic approach. The role of L&D is crucial to helping forge an understanding of the desired behaviours and looking at ways of supporting stakeholders in embedding these.

It also requires the input, support, and application from multiple stakeholders across the whole organisation.

It therefore cannot be the responsibility of L&D to create or deliver behavioural change. There are too many other people and departments with a ‘sling in the game’ to make behaviour change last.

I would argue that there are multiple stakeholders who have responsibility in achieving behavioural change. The role of L&D can be to help gain clarity and understanding of these responsibilities and create systems, processes, and support to help them deliver their responsibilities.

Ultimately though, I feel that L&D can be accountable for the delivery of behaviour change. Having L&D as the accountable partner enables an oversight of the process and builds cross functional collaboration.

Scott Hunter supports SME leaders build trust in themselves and their business, so people want to work with them, work for them, and buy from them.

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