Behavior is central to a productive and successful workplace. It affects how we pay people for what they merit, who we promote, and what we recognize and reward. And, ultimately, how our employees behave day to day ends up significantly affecting our culture and business.
Because of this, it’s critically important for organizations to make sure that their employees’ behavior matches what is needed in the organization. This includes the basics (respect, honesty, etc.), but also the behaviors that are crucial to the business' success (creativity, initiative, risk taking, etc.).
Much of what we try to do as managers is steer employees to behave in the ways that we want them to. We want them to stop complaining, take more initiative, produce better quality work, improve their performance, serve our customers better, act like leaders, and the list goes on. Essentially, we want them to change their behavior, and we're often stumped (and sometimes even baffled) over how to do it. Influencing and changing behavior is tricky in the workplace. Fortunately, there are some "tried and true" ways to do it.
Here are eight ways to get the employee behavior you want.
1. Hire people with the right values and attitudes.
It starts and ends with who you hire.
Research shows that people’s underlying values and attitudes drive most of their behavior in the workplace. When you hire people with values that align with your organization’s values as well as those with a good attitude, you are more likely to encounter fewer issues with employee behavior. Their behaviors will have a higher likelihood of being in line with your organization’s values.
You can measure past work behavior in the interview process and through the use of assessments, which measure behavioral styles, personality traits, and values. These can all help predict employee behavior on the job.
Hiring the right people who fit your culture and values means you will spend less time dealing with and managing behavior you don’t want in the workplace, and more time working with and recognizing people with the behaviors that you do want.
2. Communicate the behavior you want.
Oftentimes, organizations and managers don't get the behavior they want from employees because they simply don't talk about it or emphasize it enough. Managers often expect employees to read their minds and/or pick up on subtle indirect cues.
You can’t over-communicate about the behavior you expect from your employees and the behavior that you don’t want to see in your workplace. Make sure expected behavior is documented and visible to all employees.
They need to know what behaviors you expect and want to see from them. The more you talk about it and the more direct you are with what you want from your employees, the more likely you are to get it.
Communicate expectations for behavior and conduct in your employee handbook, in staff communications, and in-person – constantly – starting at the top and continuously emphasized at the line-manager level. Measure and evaluate these behaviors in the performance management process. In addition, clearly communicate the consequences of not behaving in the expected manner.
3. Model the behaviors you want to see.
Employees generally follow the example that is set by others in the organization and take cues for how to behave from those in charge. Leaders must accept their responsibility to act in accord with the behaviors they want employees to exude each and every day. They must be the behavioral models.
We learn to do what’s right by following others who do what’s right, and similarly, we learn to do what’s wrong when those we follow do wrong. Employees are more likely to behave in the ways you want when your leaders do.
You can’t have two sets of behavioral expectations in a workplace. Like good parents do with their children, everyone in a supervisory or leadership role must “parent” their work group by setting the example and guiding good behavior.
4. Be observant: Pay attention to behavior.
Observe and monitor employees’ behavior. Every day, there are behavioral cues you should pay attention to in order to manage and lead others more effectively.
As managers, it’s your responsibility to keep your eyes and ears open to make sure that this behavior aligns with what the organization needs and expects, and to make sure it is corrected if it isn’t.
Accountability for behavior is a major problem in many organizations, but people must be held accountable for how they behave in the workplace, and managers of all levels need to make sure this happens by paying attention to and addressing behavior issues.
5. Reinforce the right behaviors.
People will typically repeat behaviors that are rewarded and not repeat behaviors that aren’t. When you want to see more of a behavior in the workplace, acknowledge and recognize it. At times, you may even consider rewarding it, depending on the action.
When you want to see less of a behavior, provide direct, constructive feedback about it so the employee understands what’s wrong, and certainly, depending on the severity of the behavior, applying discipline may be necessary.
In addition, always confront and deal with behavior head-on and fairly with your employees. Negative behavior change strategies like passive aggressiveness, bullying, underhanded methods, and "testing" employees are never appropriate or effective means of getting the behaviors you want, but unfortunately sometimes occur in the workplace. These can be very hurtful and unfair tactics that do more harm than good, create distrust, break down relationships, and fail to respect your employees.
6. Understand the cause and motive.
Behind every behavior you don’t want in the workplace (or absence of behavior that you do want) is a cause, a motive, or a feeling. That doesn’t always justify the behavior, but it does affect how you deal with it.
Maybe it's insecurity, fear, wanting to please someone, a personal problem, or lack of knowledge/skill. Employees' motives tend to be very "human," and a reminder that we are all imperfect.
Whatever the cause, motive, or feeling driving an employee’s behavior, managing and helping employees correct it entails listening, understanding, and empathizing to some degree with whatever is driving the employee to not behave in the manner you'd like.
7. Respond to behavior consistently.
Be extremely consistent in your reinforcement and enforcement of behaviors. Telling employees you want them to display a specific behavior, and then punishing or disciplining them for the behavior sends confusing and mixed messages.
8. Inspire others.
Inspiration is one of the most effective ways to change behavior. To inspire is to tap into employees' motivations and passions at a much deeper level.
It can entail sharing stories, using inspiring language and communication tactics, personally or emotionally connecting with employees, using positive motivational techniques like encouragement and empowerment, and building confidence and self-esteem.
Managers who can connect with employees on a different level and inspire them to change their behavior can generally achieve more behavior change than those who can't.
Employee behavior in the workplace is complex and difficult to change sometimes. If we want employees to behave in a certain manner, then we need to make sure that we are managing them and the workplace in a way that supports, encourages, and holds them accountable for those behaviors. And most importantly, as we try to influence and change our employees' behavior in the workplace, we should try to use positive means such as reinforcement, communication, inspiration, empathy, understanding, and behavior modeling to achieve our end goal.