The Key to Making Resolutions Stick Is Strength in Numbers

Ah, the New Year has arrived—our chance to hit the reset button.  This year is sure to be better…we resolve to get fit, be a better parent, heck, even be a better boss.  For many managers a worthy resolution would be to do a better job of coaching direct reports.  Like eating healthy and exercise, doing more face-to-face coaching of direct reports is one of those things many of us know we should do.  We don’t need to be convinced of the value of it.  It makes sense and we have seen the payoff when we do it.   The problem is time and, in some cases, skill.  We are busy, way too busy, and let’s face it…coaching others can be challenging.  Providing timely and helpful feedback, finding effective ways to encourage desired performance, dealing with setbacks, adjusting to ever-changing targets, and all with increasingly diverse work teams…it’s not easy stuff.

Could it be there is a failsafe solution—one strategy that can help us develop better personal and professional habits?  A recent blog on got me thinking that maybe there is.  In The #1 Habit You Should Have to Lose Weight, the author polled 50 experts and asked them to name the most important habit for losing weight.   The answer, if you can believe it is to include other people in your change efforts.  Get a partner, join a group— get together with other people working on the same thing. The article goes on to describe the importance of antecedents and consequences in changing  any behavior and correctly points out that it is hard for people to effectively use antecedents and consequences on their own behaviors.  When you share what you are doing with others, you build in better sources of antecedents and consequences. 

Many people who exercise regularly know that having an exercise partner increases both the frequency and intensity of workouts.   Other people are much better at prompting and reinforcing our requisite behaviors than we are.  They are also better at shaping because it is easier for others to notice small improvements that we can’t see.  Finally, let’s not fool ourselves; there is a healthy dose of negative reinforcement associated with including others in helping us achieve our goals.  We don’t want to let them down.  We don’t want to be the one who didn’t do it.  Putting a positive spin on it—we all like to be viewed as people who do what we say we will do. 

Public commitments increase the chances of follow-through.  The author of the fitness article calls it “creating a community of consistency.”  That sounds like something any workplace could use. In the work that we do with clients, we focus on improving business results through developing coaching skills of leaders.  We find, just like the weight loss experts, that a key to success is creating a community focused on improved coaching.  We do it through brief, structured meetings in which leaders share examples of their coaching efforts and the impact it is having.  They get feedback, reinforcement, and suggestions for improvement from others who are also working on coaching.   These meetings (we call them Debriefs or Rapid Change Sessions), serve to hold leaders accountable for doing the coaching they know they need to do, provides reinforcement for doing so, and enables the all-important refinement of coaching skills.  The meetings create a “community of consistency” and continuous improvement.

Regardless of the forum, including other people in your efforts to become a better coach will pay dividends.   It can be one person, or a whole team.  Here are some tips for getting the most out of joint behavior improvement efforts:

  • Plan frequent contact. Weekly is ideal. Less frequent contact allows too much room for procrastination and drift.
  • Be consistent. Meet the same day and the same time if possible and don’t let anything short of a full-on emergency interfere.
  • Keep the meetings short and laser-focused on coaching skills. Don’t allow other issues to bleed into the discussion.
  • Eliminate repetition. Participants should only share ideas/tips if they are novel.  Repeating the same good idea doesn’t make it any better.
  • Build positive reinforcement into the process. It is all too easy for such meetings to devolve into critiques of each other’s coaching.  The goal is to reinforce and shape.
  • One behavior at a time. Good coaching focuses on one or two behaviors, not building broad competencies.  Ensuring participants focus on one manageable behavior at a time increases the probability of success and thus reinforcement for coaching.

No matter what you resolve to get better at, including other people in your journey will make you more likely to succeed. Oh, and it makes it more fun too! 


Posted by Judy Agnew, Ph.D.

As senior vice president of safety solutions, Judy spends her time helping clients create sustainable safety cultures. She also helps clients with strategy execution beyond safety, and general management and leadership improvement across cultural and generational differences.