Behavior behind the scenes matters

  • April 26, 2017
  • /   Quint Studer
  • /   training-development,quint-studer

Businessman drawing business strategy concepts with chalk

How do you behave when no one is looking?

Recently I was talking with someone in his first CEO role. He is overseeing multiple locations within a 30-mile radius and a total of about 850 employees.

He said he was working hard to transform the company’s culture and asked how long I felt was a normal time frame to make this happen. In some areas changes will take place quickly. But in my experience, the change would come to stay in the third year.

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Does that mean the organization would be great in three years? No. Many companies, especially large ones, take longer.

Best-selling author James Collins studied large companies and says it takes eight to 12 years. That is why small companies can have such a large benefit if they start out the right way. One way to do that is to start with what values will guide the organization.

If there are no written values, create them. In cases where they don’t exist, employees will take on these unwritten values by imitating senior leadership.

If everyone on the senior leader team role models great customer service, the staff will follow suit. If leaders role model picking up trash, the staff will do so also. In Collins’ book "Built to Last," he writes about companies that thrive and those that do not.

In each case, there’s a common fork in the road where each company had to choose between revenue and values. The companies that chose values lasted. The companies that cut out values for revenue did not.

Here is the definition of values according to the Business Dictionary: “Important and lasting beliefs or ideas shared by the members of a culture about what is good or bad and desirable or undesirable.”

Values have a major influence on a person’s behavior and attitude and serve as broad guidelines in all situations. I have found that once an outcome or behavior is connected to values, a person will do the desired behavior even if it makes them uncomfortable. After doing the behavior for a while, what was uncomfortable becomes comfortable.

This is true for some right off the bat as every employee has a set of values. The key is that they match the organization’s value set.

What else can values do? If you connect desired behavior to a person’s value system, it leads to consistency and better company performance.

For example, let’s say an employee leaves their work area messy. Once it is explained that the messy work area meant someone else had to clean it up and that is not living the value of teamwork, the action makes more sense for the employee.

Another example: The company is very focused on keeping expenses low. However, you as a leader notice that an employee is using more material than needed for a project due to not planning carefully. A value of the company is financial stewardship, and not using resources efficiently put the company and jobs at risk.

The hardest action for anyone to take is to let someone go from a company. A leader will wait a long time to make this change. I suggest leaders ask themselves two questions: 1) Score themselves on how well they live the values of the organization and 2) How effective they are in addressing performance issues.

Almost every time, the person rates their ability to live the values higher then addressing performance issues.

Then I tell the leader they need to move their “living the values” score down to the “addressing performance issues” rating. By not addressing the performance issues they see, they are hurting the person’s co-workers, customers and the company. That means they aren’t living the values. Once a leader does this, they address the performance issues.

Some other quick tips on how to hardwire values into the organization:

— If you already have values, how well you are communicating these and connecting staff actions to them?

— If you do not have written values at work, go online and look up “workplace values” and you will find many lists of example values. See which five or six best fit your department or company.

— Be very visible in complimenting staff and connecting to company values. For example, “Rick, I saw you made sure the person got to their seat. This is a great example of our value of service.” “Kate, even though it was not your table, I saw how recognized Leslie was busy and helped clear the table and get it ready for the next customer. What a great way to live the value of teamwork.”

— In staff training, connect the action you are teaching to the values of the company.

— When addressing people who are not taking the desired action, connect it to not living the company values.

Every company wants to achieve success. Every leader does not want to have to micromanage the work force. Every employee wants to do a good job.

By connecting actions to behavior, it makes the people better and the company better.