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Behavior Change: How to Create It

Weight Watchers—just like learning professionals―is all about creating positive behavior change. It helps millions of its members lose weight and establish healthy lifestyles. 

As the coaching program manager for Weight Watchers North America, I train a segment of our field employee population to become peer coaches who can reinforce the skills that are taught in our training programs. The coaching model that we use to help our employees do this has, at its core, five beliefs about the way that people change their behavior.  

Embracing these beliefs in your training or coaching program design will help ensure that your initiatives not only show people how to behave differently to get better results, but create follow-through to make positive behavioral changes. 

People have their own best answers

A fundamental belief of our coaching model is that people have their own best answers. We know that the answers to people’s challenges lie within them. We also know that only they know what will work best for them.  

At Weight Watchers, we recognize that only our members can come up with the best method to reach their own weight loss goals. What works for one person in their quest to lose weight and keep it off―for example, portion control, exercise, or a low-fat diet―may not work for another. Each individual needs to come to their own best way of doing things.  

The same is true for employees working to better their performance. First, we have to believe that they are capable of solving their own challenges and then create training or coaching opportunities that give them the structure and tools to come up with the most effective approach to tackle these challenges.  

While people have the answers they need inside of them, sometimes they are buried pretty deep and  covered with a lot of clutter, such as self-doubt, hectic schedules and looming deadlines, and prior experiences. It is the coach’s or trainer’s job to help people remove the clutter to find the answers they have inside of them through questioning, mirroring, active listening, or other techniques. 

Positive behavior change will only come about with self-reliance. If the person can only make these changes when a coach or trainer is present, the behavior will not change permanently. When coaches or trainers provide all of the answers, participants learn how to rely on them―not how to figure things out for themselves.  

People do what is most aligned with their values

Saying “people do what is most aligned with their values” is another way of saying that people are going to take action when they know that their action will lead to something that is important to them. Instructional designers have long referred to this as the “what’s in it for me?” component of the training program. 

If a coach or trainer is working with an employee on how to properly fill out expense reports the first time, if they can link filling out the reports to something that matters to the learner, their odds of success are far greater. Maybe what’s important to them is being a good team member and not causing extra work for other individuals in the organization. If that’s the case, you have to show them that when they fill these reports out incorrectly, it requires other employees’ to spend extra time to track them down to make the necessary corrections. If what’s important to them is having cash on hand for family trips or needed home repairs, you can start by asking them about what they would spend their money on if they had it and then remind them how much faster they could have it when they take some time initially to properly submit their expenses.  


When people do things that do not align with what they value―or what they feel is important―there is discord, low energy, and usually little success. Coaches and trainers can help people to articulate what it is that is important to them and how the actions they are taking are in line with―or not in line with―those values.  

People need to be helped to notice

Another belief in our coaching model is that people need to be helped to notice. Much of the work of a coach is to help their students become more aware: aware of how they are doing at something, aware of the impact their actions have on others, or aware of how they are feeling while they are doing something.  

It seems strange to say that people need to be taught how to experience what is actually happening or to notice things but in our society, we often don’t have time to stop and reflect, so this is a skill that people need to be reminded of. A coach or trainer can be a mirror to reflect back to participants what they are doing and how people are reacting to it. They can help an employee identify her own moments of fear or uneasiness so that she can employ the right strategies to deal with these emotional reactions. They can help a participant articulate what they need to work on. A coach or trainer can help a participant identify when nay-saying voices in his head are keeping him from doing something well―or at all.  

People will grow within a defined relationship

Why do people develop best in a defined relationship? Because they know what is expected of them and because there is safety when there is a “container” for their relationship. Here’s an analogy. Many years ago, early childhood development specialists observed young children and their mothers interact in a wide open area. In this setting, the children didn’t venture far from where their mothers sat. When a child did find himself far from his mother, he would run back to her. The specialists then observed similar children and their mothers in a fenced-in area. In this setting, the children barely paid attention to their mothers and tended to play by the edge of the fence, as far from their mothers as they could get. The specialists theorized that the children felt safer to explore when they knew they were protected in a confined area.  

This is what happens in a defined relationship. Your participants will be more willing to explore and take risks when they know the parameters and expectations of your work together. In our face-to-face training programs, we are usually very good at defining the relationship when we share with the participants an agenda, objectives, ground rules, and logistics. 

Does this carry over to our virtual and web-based learning? In a coaching program, you want to encourage coaches to erect a safe fence in which to work with their students. Even something as simple as asking, “What kind of coaching do you want today?” or “What do you want to be coached on?,” helps build that fence. 

Remember, too, that both words—defined and relationship―matter in this behavior change belief. A relationship has to be multi-directional. It has to be a conversation, rather than a top-down directive or lecture.  

People will grow within an accountable relationship

Finally, we believe that people actually make positive changes when they are being held accountable for those changes. Instructors at the Coaches Training Institute in San Raphael, California, say “without accountability, coaching is just a nice conversation.”  

Yes, you want to help people to find their own answers, align their goals with their values, and help them to be more aware, but without the element of accountability―holding them responsible for doing something―you have done little more than getting them to think during a very fulfilling training program or coaching conversation.

About the Author
As founder of Full Experience Coaching, Sophie Oberstein currently coaches individuals across the country. Her background includes consulting for numerous Fortune 500 companies, a master's degree in human resources management, postgraduate certification in training and development, college-level teaching, and certifications by the Coaches Training Institute and International Coach Federation.
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