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Throughout my consulting career I’ve heard the plaintive lament, “She just won’t change,” and “He’s hopeless, there’s no way to persuade him.” This applies to adults at work and children at home, to both genders, to all ages.

Usually, the problem about “not changing” is that there are no consequences for not changing and, in fact, there is comfort in not changing. If someone is chronically late for a meeting, and the facilitator waits until everyone is present instead of starting on time, why would anyone try to get there on time? If missing a sales quota or fumbling the ball carries no adverse consequences, then why try harder to make a sale or hold on to the ball?

I was listening to a priest complain that too many parishioners arrived late. I asked why he didn’t close the doors and force them to be stared at when they arrived late rather than allowing them to arrive without anyone noticing. “Oh, I could never do that,” he said, stunned. Well, then stop complaining.

A CEO asked me what to do about an executive who acted like a stand-up comic at large meetings, went over his time limits, and criticized colleagues from the stage. “Don’t allow him to speak,” I said.

“His position has always justified him speaking,” said the CEO.

“Well, that’s your decision, it’s not holy writ. Either interrupt him and yank him off stage or don’t allow him to speak at all. He’ll get the message. Right now, your people think that you support his behavior by tolerating it.”

He stopped the executive from speaking at the next conference and that changed his attitude for the future. Not providing consequence is, in fact, passively endorsing the behavior you don’t want to endure. We believe in providing reward for jobs well done. Well, we need to provide “punishment” for jobs done poorly.

Written by

Alan Weiss is a consultant, speaker, and author of over 60 books. His consulting firm, Summit Consulting Group, Inc., has attracted clients from over 500 leading organizations around the world.

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