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Outputs are important, but behaviors are better

by Carol Rozwell  |  August 20, 2013  |  3 Comments

Our research prediction paints a gloomy picture for the success of social initiatives. We expect them to fail to deliver the hoped for value 80% of the time. The culprits are an over-emphasis on technology and under-emphasis on behavior change (Gartner clients can read the complete research note)

The fact that so many leaders of social initiatives are seduced by social technology is easy to understand. They look at the rapid adoption of social media like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and assume they will see similar results. And if adoption will ‘go viral’ then of course there is no need to invest in tedious change management programs and training.


It is essential that social initiatives have a well-defined purpose. The business outcome needs to be compelling and complementary to the organization’s strategic objectives. That is a given. But simply stating the purpose only gets us so far. We also need to identify the vital behaviors that will allow us to achieve the desired outcome.

In their book “Influencer” the authors state that vital behaviors have three characteristics. The vital behavior:

  • Leads directly to better results.
  • Breaks self-defeating patterns.
  • Causes many other positive behaviors to follow naturally.

Vital behaviors are actions, not results. But changing vital behaviors leads to results. So for more success with social initiatives, the critical changes people have to make in their work activities must be understood and any roadblocks to making those changes must be removed.

Sounds simple, but it’s not. Most of the diagnoses I’ve done on less than successful social initiatives indicate that this crucial step is ignored.  The business case – or whatever justification approach you choose – must make it very clear how individuals and teams will work differently in order to achieve the desired outcome.

Let’s take one of the oft-stated goals of social initiatives as an example – knowledge sharing.  Knowledge sharing is a fine and noble goal and the business benefits seem obvious. Increase in sales efficiency. Decrease in RFP response time. Improvement in customer satisfaction. Who could argue with them? Before these results are accrued, though, the people performing the work need to change how they work today and do something different tomorrow. What that change is, specifically, is the vital behavior.

  • What does the sale rep do differently to be more efficient?
  • What does the proposal manager do to get the proposal out sooner?
  • What does the CSR do to answer the client’s question better and faster?

If these answers to these and similar questions are identified early on in the social initiative planning process, your efforts will be more successful, more quickly.

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Category: change-management  collaboration  knowledge-management  social-media  social-networks  social-software  

Tags: change-management  collaboration  collaboration-dynamics  organizational-change  organizational-liquidity  rewards  social-media  social-networking  social-networks  social-software  

Carol Rozwell
VP Distinguished Analyst
11 years at Gartner
21 years IT industry

Carol Rozwell is a vice president and distinguished analyst on Gartner's Digital Workplace team. Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Outputs are important, but behaviors are better

  1. Eric Brown says:

    Carol – wonderful research, I applaud the work you are doing to highlight the criticality of supporting “the individual” in solving for peak performance through corporate culture and employee engagement. What are your expectations we will see a Hype Curve in this area – perhaps some iteration of the HCM Quadrant? Many thanks for continuing to pour your time and effort into an area that will define the future of Organizational Performance and HCM (Dislike that acronym but seems to put this conversation in a bucket leadership teams can understand)

  2. Carol Rozwell says:

    Glad to know the blog post resonated with you. My work on organizational performance continues to be focused on socially centered leadership and the skills required for collaborative decision making. The Hype Cycle and Magic Quadrant are better vehicles for discussing technology topics than organizational change.

  3. Eric Brown says:

    As someone who has pursued personal development work for years – peel back the onion to become a better man/husband/father/colleague/leader – your line of investigation is spot on. I can personally attest to positive impact my personal development has had on my performance in a professional setting. So, then, can this use case be extended into the corporate world for CEO’s looking to capture sustained levels of stellar performance from their people. It was your post on Output Vs Behaviors that really tapped my mind/heart.

    I completely agree with HC and MQ as fodder for tech centric conversations. So, perhaps a better question to ask would be:
    What role does/can technology play in supporting organizational change/performance at the human/behavioral level? It would seem that solving for supporting people in making positive change in their lives could be the fundamental building block to scaling from employee well being-> team alignment->business unit performance–> strategic objectives. Then the questions revolve around what role, if any, does this have in socially responsible leadership? How does this look and feel for a CEO committed this depth of transformation and then asks, “OK, how do I get from A to B”?

    To your comments around vital behavior, we often discuss the notion of 10-20-20. The 10 behaviors tied to (X) of the top 20% of employees at the top 20% of corporations. Nice to find a kindred spirit in the world.

    Is there a role for a discontinuous innovative solution? Discontinuous in the sense of looking at these problems differently i.e solve for behavioral change Full disclosure, we have built a human behavior design platform. Which is a very Orwellian way of saying, our solution helps support people in making positive change in their lives through behavior design/development. We should talk, I have at least a 1,000 questions for you 🙂

    Way to go Carol. Keep at it, I look forward to seeing this story unfold.

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