Call the bird out of the bush

There’s nothing that frustrates leaders more than when they see an employee’s behavior that doesn’t align with the company’s goals.

In their gut, they know this behavior will not yield the desired results, but so many leaders don’t know how to address the behavior without first fleeing to overthink it and avoid it—doing  what I call “ignoring the bird in the bush.” Eventually, this leads to leaders becoming sick and tired of putting up with the undesirable behavior and spewing out accusations like, “You aren’t doing your job!” “You aren’t being efficient!” “You aren’t supposed to be doing that!”—doing what I call “killing the bird in the bush.”

This flight-fight behavior is typical and doesn’t yield the results to shift the undesirable behavior that realigns the employee with the goals. When leaders react in this flight and fight manner, employees stand in judgment that the problem is not them, but is really their boss, who needs anger management therapy.

The truth is, it’s not anger management therapy that’s needed, just a little coaching on how to trust your gut and call the bird out of the bush. We can do this effectively when we first take a couple of deep breaths so we can clear our mind. Then, when we follow my 10-step Goal Alignment Conversation, we are able to:

Focus on why we are addressing the behavior: because it doesn’t align with the goal.

Communicate in a collaborative way, seeking first to understand why the employee is choosing that behavior and then sharing our perspective and concerns.

Decision-making with the employee, collaborating on solutions and new best practices that align with the goal, giving us greater buy-in and assurance the old behavior will not be repeated.

Accountability to a new behavior is developed when it is talked through, understood, and a follow-up plan is created to ensure the change was made.

While the 10-step Goal Alignment Conversation may sound like a lot of steps, think of it as a four-part conversation: Focus, Communicate, Decision-making, Accountability. In looking at these four parts and 10 steps, you can see that oftentimes we do not first align with the person we are talking to and remind them of our common goal. Instead, we often jump right to step five and share our perspective on a problem and our solution. This leaves the receiver blindsided because he or she does not understand WHY this issue is important and instead it just feels like control. Starting with the why creates greater buy-in to the desired behavior, versus just telling someone what to do. By getting them engaged in the problem-solving statement in step 2 of “How might we choose different behavior that aligns us better to the goal?” we are then able to engage their ideas on how to solve the problem and overcome the obstacles they otherwise may have been experiencing.

While we often think we don’t have time to communicate, the truth is when we don’t communicate and align employees’ behavior with the goals, we not only waste time, but also we miss our goals. Effective leaders know how to trust their gut when they see behavior is out of alignment. They also know how to take a deep breath and step into the situation in a way that calls the bird out of the bush. Using the 10-step Goal Alignment Conversation ensures you not only have continual focus on the goals, it ensures you are communicating and making decisions in a way that engages employees in the solutions and buy-in to meet the goals. When you do that, accountability rarely needs to occur.

10-step Goal Alignment Conversation

Step 1: Align your problem statement with the goal
For example, say: “Don’t you agree our goal is ________?”

Step 2: Re-state the problem statement
Say:  “How might we…?” Include a specific subject matter getting in the way of meeting the goal.

Step 3: Start with curiosity
Ask and listen to the other person’s perspective first. Instead of telling people what you think, feel and want—ask what they think, feel and want.

Step 4: Get feedback on what you heard
Tell them in their words what you heard them say. Remember, communication is only 10 percent what we actually say and 90 percent our tone of voice, emotional energy and body language. People feel heard not only when we can feed back the words they said, but when we hear what they are saying with empathy. To have empathy means you are putting yourself in their shoes and imagining what they feel.

Step 5: Share your perspective. Start with the facts.
Tell them what you want and why. Stick to the facts and be specific in terms of behavior.

Step 6: Ask for feedback
Ask them to give feedback on what you said so you can ensure you were heard.

Step 7: Collaborate for a productive result
Ask, “How might we resolve_________, to meet _________goal, considering your and my points of view?”

Begin with the areas on which you agree and write them down. Then look at the areas on which you think you disagree:

Is there anything in common there?

Where there is not something in common, ask, “How might we consider our differences in the scope of the goals?” What would create the greatest ROI (return on investment)?

Step 8: Create a plan for change
Start with writing down what you both suggested you do. Now get specific: who will do what by when?

Step 9: Follow up & benchmark the progress
Check in to see if you are meeting your deadlines. Problem-solve any obstacles. Determine if you made the change desired and hit the goal.

Step 10: Appreciate & celebrate
Find a way to make it fun when you make progress and hit the goal!

Copyright Susan K. Wehrley, from her book “EGO at Work.”

Challenge: What behavior are you seeing that you need to address and align with the goals? How might you call the bird out of the bush instead of ignoring it or killing it?

-Susan K. Wehrley has been a business coach and consultant for more than 25 years, aligning leaders and employees to their companies’ goals. She is the author of “EGO at Work,” and the founder and CEO of She can be reached at (414) 581-0449 or

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Susan K. Wehrley
Susan K. Wehrley is an executive coach and business consultant that aligns executives and businesses to their vision, values and goals. She is also a regular contributor to Forbes. You can email Susan at, (262) 696-6856 or visit her website for more details.

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