Best Boss Take 5 | Behavior Grows Better Before It Grows Worse

We continue to uncover and understand how to best work with Peter Senge’s 11 Laws of Systems Thinking. Understanding how systems work in terms of the problems and challenges that you’re facing can be instrumental in making you not only a good manager but a great leader. You’ll need to understand how systems look and how you can identify system problems, but also what you can do with them to understand how they operate.

Law #3: Behavior grows better before it grows worse.

This is a really surprising one in some ways. It acknowledges what happens when we are making system changes and the delay in the actual effect of the change that we’re making. It’s about starting to understand and respect the delay in the intended behavior change when we bring a change to the system. You might call it the “honeymoon phase.”

For instance, my team and I devised an operational plan to best support the strategic plan of our organization. And that was fine – really good, actually. Behavior was terrific at the beginning, but inevitably, behavior started to fall apart. We had the right solution. So it’s the acknowledgment that we’re going to be good at first, but there will be some challenges, and can we get ahead of those challenges?

Preempt the Honeymoon Phase

The very first idea I want to share with you is this idea of preempting the bad behavior, understanding where it may come from, talking about it before it happens, and understanding what you will do when it does happen. Make sure there is a shared understanding with your team that this is what happens, and this is what we will do. 

Anticipate Unintended Consequences

Recognize that well-intentioned actions can have unintended consequences. Use tools like the Causal Loop Diagram or scenario planning to map out potential ripple effects of interventions. Consider the long-term consequences and assess the likelihood of behaviors growing worse after an initial improvement. So again, getting ahead of what you know is going to be happening is super smart. 

Emphasize Continuous Learning

You’ve heard this one before – emphasize and nurture continuous learning. Systems are dynamic and evolving, and when you embrace a continuous learning way of doing business, of managing and leading, you’ll be that much more comfortable in how systems shape, shift, evolve, respond, or don’t respond. The more comfortable you are with how systems work, the easier it will be to understand why behavior grows better before it grows worse. 

About Danny

With over 20 years experience in training and leadership development  — and holding an MBA and an MA in Organizational Development — Danny Ceballos has worked with organizations across the country to strengthen their effectiveness in leading and managing others through supervision+motivation best practices and strategies.