Organizational Change and the Human Brain


Change in organizations is pretty much a constant in today’s business environment. Globalization, changing market dynamics, evolving technology, and a myriad of other factors create the need for change, and human emotions – more precisely, the response of human brains – create many of the barriers to successful change implementation.

In my work with workshop participants and coaching/consulting engagements, I see both change done well and change gone awry. When it goes well, leaders have done the preparatory and communication work necessary to successfully navigate the dangerous emotional territory created by change. When it does not go well, it is generally because leaders have not fully appreciated or planned for the emotional context in which they are working.

Here are three articles I have used to help me to develop better understanding and insight into the human component of “change management.”

This article, contains some good tips for thinking about, planning for, and implementing a change.

Checklist for Brain-Friendly Change Management

More than twenty years ago, organisational behavioral experts Kenneth Thompson and Fred Luthans noted that a person’s reaction to organisational change “can be so excessive and immediate, that some researchers have suggested it may be easier to start a completely new organization than to try to change an existing one.” This ”human resistance to change,” is one of the most important issues facing the field of organisational change.

I see this article as primarily an promotional article about an event where the topics of change and change management will be discussed at greater length, and still, it offers some good insights into what leaders should consider as they think about organizational change.

This is Your Brain on Organizational Change – Walter McFarland

For many years, the training field has viewed organizational change as a process that is both linear and sequential. Instead, change has revealed itself to be non-linear and chaotic. It’s time to find a new model — one that incorporates insights from neuroscience research and takes into account 21st century workplace dynamics and realities.

And finally, the article that is my favorite in this particular list. This article provides deeper insights into how our brains respond to social dynamics caused by organizational change. I see the concepts in this article as foundational for wise leaders who want to learn how to successfully drive change through their teams.

Managing with the Brain in Mind

Although a job is often regarded as a purely economic transaction, in which people exchange their labor for financial compensation, the brain experiences the workplace first and foremost as a social system. Like the experiment participants whose avatars were left out of the game, people who feel betrayed or unrecognized at work — for example, when they are reprimanded, given an assignment that seems unworthy, or told to take a pay cut — experience it as a neural impulse, as powerful and painful as a blow to the head. Most people who work in companies learn to rationalize or temper their reactions; they “suck it up,” as the common parlance puts it. But they also limit their commitment and engagement. They become purely transactional employees, reluctant to give more of themselves to the company, because the social context stands in their way.

If you know of other good resources, please leave a comment below with your suggestions.

photo credit: perpetualplum via photopin cc

The Power of Curiosity in Coaching and Conflict Resolution


One challenge in coaching other people is that you will often coach them on issues where you see a clear answer or course of action before they see it. When this happens, you can find yourself jumping to conclusions and making assumptions about their motivations, drivers and desires.

To avoid the conflict escalation, communication breakdown, and high negative emotional energy created by premature assumptions and judgments, work on maintaining an attitude of curiosity as you interact with and coach other people.

In preparing for this post, I found an interesting article at that mentioned an interesting study on the power of consciously creating a curious attitude…

[One] study asked participants to view a video of someone holding a view completely counter to their own belief system. Feminists vs. fans of pornography. Vegans vs. carnivores. Half of the participants were asked to prepare comments for the speaker. The other half were asked to prepare a single question showcasing their natural curiosity about the speaker’s point of view (“Can you explain to me why the benefits of banning pornography outweigh the costs?”). What scientists found was that compared with people preparing comments, people armed with a single question viewed the message on the video as more intelligent and reasonable, viewed the speaker as more open-minded, and most promising, were more interested in meeting and getting to know the speaker in the future.

From Curiosity and the Chrysanthemum: Defuse Conflicts, Become a 

The study reveals powerful implications for leaders who are coaching others. When you foster your curiosity, you are more likely to view the person you are coaching as an intelligent and reasonable person. That one change in your viewpoint could be exactly what is needed to get a better outcome from your coaching efforts.

When you coach and mentor others, even if you need to move closer to discipline rather than coaching, work to maintain an attitude of curiosity about their reasoning, thoughts, and motivations. You will be a better coach and experience less conflicts when you make this effort.

Here are two other interesting posts I found on the power of curiosity…

How to be curious in conflict. Even when you don’t feel like it

The optimal state of mind for negotiating and resolving conflict isn’t certainty, it’s curiosity. Here’s how to be curious even when you don’t feel like it.

“I’m curious about what happened. Let’s talk!” …

Instead of silence or violence there is a third path, which in fact can transform conflict into a healthy outcome. This third path is the path of dialogue guided by what I call respectful curiosity. When we find ourselves having…

photo credit: the Italian voice via photopin cc

Why Executive Leadership Coaching Can Be Good For You

I once read this quote: “you’re on the wrong side of your eyeballs to be objective about you.”

I love that quote! It’s both short and powerful.

Unfortunately, I do not remember the source of that quote, and I wasn’t able to find it in preparing to write this article. Still it is a true statement.

As the quote says, we are all on the wrong side of our eyeballs to be objective about ourselves.

Leaders need objective evaluation of data, approaches, and outcomes to make better and more effective decisions. They need good, solid feedback from other people so that they can evaluate the quality of their decisions, the results of their actions,  and the impact of their interactions with others – both on their teams and with their peers.

Executive leadership coaching is a service that provides leaders with this necessary and vital feedback so that they can learn and grow as leaders.

A good leadership coach will look you in the eye and give you direct, honest input and perspective to facilitate your personal growth and development. They will offer this input whether you want to hear the feedback or not. And, as a leader, that type of honest and direct feedback is what you want.

You probably won’t get this kind of feedback from your team because they will likely be afraid to tell you for fear of negative repercussions on the job.

You are not likely to get it from your peers because they might not see you clearly or they might have powerful motives to hide their true perspective.

And, your supervisor likely sees you through a filter that does not allow them to be totally objective about your decisions, behaviors and interactions with others.

You can be a good leader without coaching. You will probably not become a great leader without it.

Executive leadership coaching can give you the feedback, perspective, and objectivity you need to become the leader you want to be.

How To Inspire Workplace Behaviors To Get Better Results

You have finally become the boss, and you have valid reasons to feel good about your team.

In the first few months of your new position, you have built a team of really good people.

You have strong players in every position.

You have clearly defined procedures for every part of the business.

You have incentive, safety recognition, and bonus programs.

And still, something is not quite right.

Somehow, there seems to be a sense of unease. You can’t put your finger on it exactly, but you know it’s there. It’s what you wake up at 2 a.m. worrying about.

What symptoms are you seeing? What, exactly, is your concern?

Sadly, it’s not precise, neatly defined situation. It’s the little things. Like having to spend too much time monitoring your workers – checking time sheets, correcting behavior problems, and dealing with attitude problems. Many people seem to be “doing their own thing” instead of being a part of a team.

Does any of this sound familiar?

If you are like many business leaders, you can relate to this situaiton because getting optimal team performance is a common problem for business owners. It’s a problem for the largest corporation and the mom and pop business. Putting strong players on the team supplies the foundation for good performance, but that is only part of the process. As the manager, you need to encourage behaviors that create positive business results.

A powerful tool for encouraging these behaviors is the use of targeted positive reinforcement within a well defined performance management system. Many people have written many articles, reports, and books about the use of positive reinforcement. Still, many managers and business owners wrestle with how to apply the concepts appropriately. One reason many people do not get the results they hope for is a misunderstanding of how reinforcement strategies really work.

Positive reinforcement strategies are far more than “pats on the back”, “atta-boys”, and “warm fuzzies.”  The effective use of positive reinforcement strategies in a structured performance management system relies on knowledge of your business systems, understanding the effect of specific employee behaviors on business results, and precisely targeted behavioral reinforcements.

Creating the performance management system that applies the principles effectively starts with understanding why people do what they do.

One model of explaining human behavior says that an individual’s behavior results from the consistent pairing of situations or events just prior to our behaviors and the consequences (experiences, situations or events) created by our behaviors. I will probably write more about this specific issue later. For now, let’s look at an example to quickly and simply illustrate the point.

We enter a dark room and flip the light switch to “On”. We do this because we expect light to be the result. Darkness is the antecedent. Light is the consequence. If we enter a room and consistently get no light by flipping the switch, we resort to some other behavior (light a candle, carry a flashlight, etc).

This concept can sound simple enough in the example. In practice, it is often more difficult to practically apply it in the workplace.

The key to making the principle work to inspire high-level behaviors is to clearly identify the workplace behaviors that produce the desired business results, and then to create consequences for employees that will reinforce those behaviors. Any consequence that encourages a behavior to repeat is a positive reinforcement.

But there is a subtlety in application that is very important to understand. We can encourage behaviors. We cannot enforce them. Many companies try to enforce appropriate behaviors rather than working to encourage them.

(Sidebar note: I do recognize the importance of holding people accountable for their poor choices, and I would sat that accountability is a separate issue from enforcement. More on that in a later article.)

The effort to enforce behaviors requires a high degree of supervisory input and nets only minimal standard performance from employees. Finding ways to encourage high-level behaviors requires minimal supervisory input once the system is in place, and it usually results in superior performance.

One way to achieve a consistent pairing of results (consequences) and behaviors is accomplished through a targeted improvement process much like the processes advocated by ISO, QS, and TQM management systems. The steps in this process are:

  1. Identify the behaviors that create the desired results.
  2. Measure the results of the behaviors.
  3. Provide feedback to employees.
  4. Positively reinforce the effective behaviors.
  5. Evaluate the choice of behaviors and measurements.
  6. Iterate to improve selection and definition of desired behaviors and paired consequences.

As business people, we all know that human behavior drives business results. Our daily behaviors create the results that either help or hurt our businesses. Learning to encourage behaviors that grow the business can make the difference between success and failure.

Motivation Insight: Learn to Apply the Four to One Rule

Well delivered and thoughtful praise can deliver the energy that pushes a team to great performance. Likewise, careless criticism and correction offered without balance can kill a team. Effective leaders learn to choose the right words — either positive or negative  — for every situation.

Many of my clients are in significant leadership roles.  They generally come to me because they want outside perspective to help them grow as  leaders or to improve their team environment. Some are not yet leaders.  They want to develop leadership skills in preparation for advancement. Awhile back, one of my clients in the second category had an experience that almost destroyed a good working relationship. Leaders and prospective leaders everywhere can learn from his experience.

He is a hard-working, driving leader.  He fully devotes his energy to his work.  He gives extra time to make sure that he is a positive contribution to his organization. And, like most people, he has some blind-spots and imperfections.

Overall, he brings far more positive influence than negative energy to his team. Still, he found himself on the receiving end of a disciplinary discussion with his supervisor.

In reality, every story has two sides, and this one is no different. His supervisor had a perfectly valid point, but it grew to be far more negative than necessary because of the way his supervisor presented it to him. In just a moment, I will describe the employee side of the issue and how that perspective impacts team performance.

Aubrey Daniels, a highly respected behavioral analyst and author, states that high-level team and individual performance only comes as the result of positive reinforcement (praise, rewards, time-off, etc). Anything negative (punishment, penalty, criticism, correction, etc) will, at best,  create “minimal effort.” The reasoning and data to support this statement lies beyond the scope of this article.  You can read more on the topic in Bringing Out the Best in People by Aubrey Daniels or Whale Done by Ken Blanchard.

“Positive reinforcement generates more behavior than is minimally required. We call this discretionary effort, and its presence in the workplace is the only way an organization can maximize performance.”

— Aubrey Daniels, Bringing Out the Best in People

For now, I’m focusing on only one issue. Aubrey Daniels calls it the 4:1 Rule. This rule says that most people need to receive a minimum of  four positive inputs on their behavior for every one negative input — if they are going to focus on and respond to the positive consequences and give “maximal effort.”

Very few leaders move smoothly through their careers without having to discuss negative performance issues with their team members. Sadly, many leaders fail in this effort when they confront negative issues in a formal and threatening manner and then do little or nothing to recognize the counterbalancing positive contributions of the employee.

I understand how leaders fall into this trap. I see the same behavior in many situations: parents correcting their children, teachers disciplining students, and supervisors discussing performance issues with employees. The problem might look different in different organizations and contests. And still, regardless of the environment, the outcome comes down to the same root problem — most of us find it easier to notice what people have done wrong than what they have done right.

Getting back to the person mentioned above.

He is committed and dedicated. He works hard. He produces results. And, he has a persistent negative behavior trait — a trait he was already working to improve upon.

The first time his supervisor mentioned the behavior, they chose to go directly to a formal reprimand without any prior discussions.

When this supervisor mentions positive contributions, they do so casually and informally. The rarely document positive contributions. In this case they went straight to the formal documentary process without so much as a warning.

And, here is the net effect: the employee feels demoralized and devalued. The employee, a person who naturally enjoys contributing new ideas and looking for opportunities to help, now acts with more caution and reservation in his work environment. He is almost totally “shut-down.”

In this case, the supervisor has “motivated” the employee to invest only enough effort to avoid future troubles and confrontations. The employee’s desire to make a major positive contribution is, at least temporarily, gone.

I understand the need to use formal disciplinary processes. However, I do not recommend, except in extreme situations, that leaders implement them at the first sign of a problem.

I recommend that leaders start the process with performance coaching and informal discussion to help the employee see the problem in their behavior. If the behavior is extreme, or if these coaching efforts fail to improve performance; then, leaders should apply more formal approaches (official verbal reprimand, written reprimand, etc.).

Formal approaches tend to feel very negative from the employees perspective no matter how much leaders soften the language they use in delivering the message. When leaders resort to formal approaches too early in the process, they first have to overcome the negative feelings before they can get back on a positive relationship basis.

Leaders must confront negative behaviors, and they must create hope. They should confront negative behavior quickly.  And, they should look for ways to praise and reward positive behaviors as well.

In an ideal world, employees who contribute more positive than negative to an organization will receive at least four positive comments for every one that is negative.

Highly effective leaders consciously work to provide at least four times as many positives as negatives so that they can inspire high level rather than bare minimum performance in the teams that they lead.

“To lead yourself, use your head; to lead others, use your heart.”

— John Maxwell, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership

Hiring Tip: Focus On The Person Rather Than The Resume

Here’s a simple hiring tip – Focus on the person rather than the resume.

I admit that the ability to confront negative behaviors and poor performance is an important skill for leaders to develop. Still, there is something you can do long before problem behaviors surface that is a step beyond that for building a high performance team. Hire the right person for the job in the beginning.

Discussions about hiring the right person frequently surface as I work with various clients across the US and Canada. The subject floats to the surface when they need to fill a position. It comes up when they realize they have the wrong person in a position. Sometimes it comes up as a question during a training session. Sometimes it comes up in a private conversation. But it almost always comes up eventually.

When people have the authority to hire and fire, I see on very common mistake — one that I have even made myself — is this: focusing on the person’s technical skills rather than on their “soft” skills. I recognize that strong and relevant technical skills are vitally important.

For example, I would recommend hiring a CPA who knows nothing about accounting, and I don’t believe you should hire a nurse or dental hygienist who knows nothing about the tasks necessary to do those jobs. So, I am not suggesting that you ignore a person’s resume. I am just suggesting that their experience and training (i.e. – their resume) only serves to qualify them to get the opportunity to interview with you.

Their resume might gets them in the door and in front of you, but it shouldn’t give them the job.

“… [get] the right people on the bus, the right people in the right seats (and the wrong people off the bus) and then [figure] out where to drive it.”

– Jim Collins – Good To Great

Consider this situation.

Let’s say that you hire a person with outstanding technical skills. This person knows literally everything about the industry. They understand the legal environment. They have great job specific task skills. They understand all of the technical aspects of their position.\

And, your staff cannot stand to work with them. The “technical expert” demands special attention, resists every change, speaks negatively about management and other team members, pushes the limit on workplace rules, etc.

Are they really worth the trouble? Does the positive contribution from their “technical expert” status justify the damage they do to overall team performance? In most of the situations I’ve been involved in, the answer is no.

In the above scenario, I created a situation where the person under consideration is truly a “technical expert.”  In this case, they are among the best, technically, in their field.

What about the more frequent situation? The situation where the person really is good technically, but they’re not necessarily among the best in the industry.  Now, how does their behavior with and impact on other people balance against their technical skills? From where I sit, it only gets worse.

I assume that you will only consider hiring people with at least the basic technical skills to do the job. So, faced with a choice between two candidates:

Candidate one has a great “attitude” and acceptable technical skills (my working definition of attitude includes work ethic, drive, initiative, ability to work with others, and other “soft” or difficult to measure skills), and

Candidate two has outstanding technical skills and a poor attitude

I would choose candidate number one. I just find it easier an d more productive to help people strengthen their technical skills than to coach, mentor, cajole, and counsel them in an effort improve their attitude.

“Hire the best staff you can find, develop them as much as you can, and hand off everything you possibly can to them.”

– John C. Maxwell – The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership

What if you have difficulty finding a person with the right attitude? I suggest you keep looking until you find them. It is better to work short-handed for a short time than to work with a problem employee for a long time. As Jim Collins states in his landmark study Good To Great – “When in doubt, don’t hire – keep looking.”

Five Things Leaders Can Do to Champion Change

Smart leaders know that they don’t “make” a change happen. They understand that the people in their organization do the work, change behaviors, and, ultimately, make the change happen. They see that that their role is to make the change meaningful and easier to accept. Smart leaders champion change.

Let’s look at five things smart leaders do to champion change.

1. They sell more than they tell

Smart leaders know how to sell their ideas. They understand that “telling” someone what’s going to happen is very different from “selling” them on the idea. I do not suggest that smart leaders use so called “high-pressure” sales tactics. By selling, I mean that they look for ways to get people emotionally committed to the change.

They tell stories, they paint a vision of a better future, and they engage positive emotions for people. They stay focused on the benefits rather than the costs. They understand that people need time to adjust to and to accept the change. They work to inspire buy-in in stead of compliance.

2. They help people tune-in to WII-FM

Sales and marketing professionals talk about the radio station that most people tune-in to on a daily basis. They know about WII-FM (What’s in it for me?).

If it’s true about people in the marketplace, then it’s true about people in the workplace. Smart leaders know how to answer the question on every employee’s mind: “What’s in it for me?”

Dr. Aubrey Daniels, noted behavioral analyst and author of Bringing Out the Best in People, makes two great comments regarding the process of change acceptance:

  • “People don’t resist change, they resist being changed,” and
  • “People don’t resist change if the change provides immediate positive consequences to them.”

Smart leaders know that people are generally more willing to do things that bring personal benefit than they are to do things that benefit the organization. They take a pragmatic, not a cynical or negative, view of human nature. They see people for who they are and work to adjust their strategy to go with — not against — the natural drives of people in their organization.

3. They work through the “head grapes”

Every organization has a grapevine — an unofficial communication channel that often moves faster than official ones. You might call the people who other people listen to, and therefore influence the grapevine, the “head grapes.”

Smart leaders are not so impressed with themselves that they believe they have to do all of the influencing.

They know that the head grapes have more personal influence within certain employee groups than they do. They understand leadership is about trust and relationship; it is not about position. Recognizing this fact, they seek out influencers in the organization to make things happen rather than to bring recognition to themselves.

They strive to get the influencers onboard with the change. They understand the power of relationships, and they put that power to work. They work with the head grapes to affect change so that they don’t have to push against the head grapes’ resistance.

4. They break the change into “bite-sized” pieces

Smart leaders understand that people need both information about the reason behind the change and time to adjust to it. They also realize that they can’t wait forever to get everyone to commit to the new direction. So, they break big changes into small pieces that people are more likely to accept quickly.

By moving forward in small steps, smart leaders move their organizations with frequent, continual, and steady forward progress rather than through periodic big jumps.

5. They build positive momentum

When they break larger changes into smaller, more manageable, bite-sized pieces, smart leaders position themselves to build positive forward momentum. Smart leaders know that an early failure or setback can create more resistance later — even if they do manage to overcome it.

Building a record of quick, early wins helps people accept the upsets that will happen on the way to success. Smart leaders understand the power of momentum — either positive or negative. They break changes into small pieces that improve their odds of success, and then they pick the highest probability of success step as their first move.

5 Ways To “Be” For Better Employee Motivation

While it is not always true in every business, it is true in most. Managers do not really understand their employees. They do not know how to motivate, inspire, and correct people effectively. As I work with my clients, I hear the same questions repeatedly: “How do I get my employees to …

…quit complaining?”

…do more than the bare minimum?”

…contribute in meetings?”

…show up on time?” etc.

I also hear all kinds of answers. Some of them are good, and some are not. The good ideas show a pretty good knowledge of human nature and an effort to positively apply the principles of human behavior and interaction. The bad ones tend to feel good to the manager, but they violate some basic principle of human relations.

The first idea to tackle with this article is the phrase that starts most of these question: “How do I get my employees to …”

The short answer is: you don’t. They will choose to do what they want to do. You cannot make them do anything.

You can alter the consequences they experience as a result of their behaviors. You can modify your communication strategies to improve the odds that they hear and understand your intended message.

You can, and probably should, do all of these things to improve the odds that they will cooperate and take the desired action. You cannot make them do anything. They have to make the choice to do whatever they do.

With that foundational idea out of the way, let’s get on to the five Be’s.

Even though how people behave is a fairly complex subject,  events that often appear to be random, isolated behaviors typically fit into relatively predictable patterns for most people. If you understand the patterns, you will know what to do most of the time. To aid in the process of applying these principles, I created the Five Be’s of Motivation to make the patterns easier to remember and apply.

1. Be Positive

People generally do things for one of two reasons: to avoid pain or to pursue pleasure. As a manager, you constantly work between these two options.

If you rely too heavily on negative consequences – like verbal reprimands, threats, or other punishments – to drive behavior, people will do just enough to avoid the pain. You will continue to get the bare minimum effort from your employees despite your hard work, pushing and prodding.

If you focus on rewarding good behaviors with positive consequences for your employees, you greatly improve the likelihood that you will get cooperation and extra, discretionary effort rather than conflict, complaints and bare minimum performance.

Simply noticing and pointing out unacceptable behaviors and stopping them with punishment is easy. It takes real, concentrated effort to recognize good behaviors and praise them. Overall, you need to do both. You just want to find more ways to recognize the good so that you are less likely to see the bad.

2. Be Specific

Make sure you speak only about specific behaviors and avoid comments implying that you understand other people’s intentions. Sometimes you will need to discipline people, and other times you will offer praise. In either case, the more specific you make your words the better.

When you get emotionally involved (angry) from a negative situation, you may have a challenge finding ways to state what you see in highly specific language.

For example, let’s say that one of your employees frequently confronts you in departmental meetings. Many people will get angry with the situation and say something like “stop being rude and inconsiderate.”  Sadly, “rude” and “inconsiderate” are your interpretation of the behaviors. They are not actual behaviors.

A better statement would be, “I don’t appreciate it when you interrupt and challenge me. I see those behaviors as rude and inconsiderate. I won’t do it to you, and I don’t expect you to do it to me.” (I suggest you do this in private.) Depending on the situation, you might take further disciplinary action based on company history and workplace rules. Whether you take further action or not, focus on specific behaviors and not interpretations.

Here are some examples:

  • Rude, inconsiderate, disrespectful, arrogant, obnoxious, flighty, unfocused, smart aleck, and pushy are interpretations.
  • Interrupting, rolling eyes, speaking loudly (or softly), shrugging shoulders, looking away, walking away, and tone of voice are specific behaviors.

3. Be Certain

People generally choose their behaviors (often subconsciously) based on what they expect to happen to them in the future as a result of their behavior. Whether it’s avoiding pain or pursuing pleasure, it’s still about expectations. Your employees need to know – without a doubt – what to expect from you based on their actions.

Make sure that everyone clearly understands the rules of conduct in your workplace. Ideally, you will write down anything that is mission critical to your operation. I don’t suggest that you make your employee handbook look like the Code of Federal Regulations, but you should have a few well-written and clearly defined behavioral expectations for your organization. People need to know the rules. They need to know what to expect when they follow the rules – and when they don’t.

4. Be Consistent

Consistency works in close partnership with Certainty. It is Certainty’s twin in the daily struggle to create a high-performing, results-oriented team. If you don’t consistently apply your workplace rules, your employees will never develop a sense of certainty.

Consistency applies to both positive and negative behaviors. If you say that you will reward certain behaviors, then always reward them. If you say that certain behaviors are unacceptable, always act to stop them.

5. Be Immediate

Act as close the observed behavior as possible. When your employees do something worthy of praise – do it now. When they need correction – do it now. Delayed consequences have very little impact on behavior.

I’ll illustrate the point with my behavior.

I like cheesecake. Eating cheesecake offers me both immediate and future consequences. The future consequence is negative – I could develop a weight or blood pressure problem. The immediate consequence is positive – it tastes good and gives me pleasure. When I have the opportunity to get cheesecake, I find it difficult to resist even though I understand the negative consequences. Why? The immediate, certain positive tends to overshadow the future, possible negative.

Acting immediately has an added benefit when the behavior is inappropriate. If the behavior continues without correction, you are likely to get even more angry every time you see it. As you get more and more angry, you will probably find it more difficult to keep your response proportional to the behavior (i.e. – not blowing your stack). Act now and you will be better able to maintain self-control.

Remember and use these five “rules” of motivation, and you will greatly improve the odds that people will bring their best and most productive behaviors to work with them.

How to Hire the Best Candidate For a Job

I often hear leaders from all types of organizations ask questions about hiring the right person. Their questions usually sound like these:

  • What if their resume looks great but they have a bad attitude?
  • What if they put on a good act and then don’t work hard?
  • How can I tell how they will perform after I hire them?

A great way to answer these questions starts with a well-defined interview process. I have heard the procedure called many things. I first learned it as the Behavioral Event interview process. [Read more…]

Six Tips for Confronting Bad Workplace Behaviors

It is a fact of organizational life – negative, unacceptable behaviors will happen.
When they do, the leader must address them.

I normally emphasize the benefits of encouraging positive, productive behaviors over punishing negative ones. However, my clients and seminar participants often ask questions like:

  • “What about team members who don’t want to play nice?” or
  • “What if I can’t find anything positive to reinforce?”

The short answer is this: “Confront negative behaviors early and decisively.”

When you fail to confront negative behaviors, you subtly signal acceptance of them. In effect, you encourage them to continue. As Admiral William F. Halsey said, “All problems become smaller if you don’t dodge them, but confront them.”

Personally, I prefer encouraging people to disciplining them. Encouragement is more comfortable to me – therein lays the problem. Encouragement is more comfortable to me. Any time I act out of personal comfort rather than appropriateness of response, I fail in my leadership role.

For about 10 or 20 per cent of the population, confronting problem behaviors is a no-brainer. These people are comfortable with confrontation. They do it naturally. However, the rest of us feel some stress and discomfort in a conflict situation.

My desire for peace and harmony sometimes stops me from quickly confronting negative behaviors. The paradox is this. As the leader of a team, if I do not address negative behaviors, I will get more of them. And, in the end, I will have less peace and harmony. In order to get what I do want, I have to do what I do not want to do.

Most people have a list of negative behaviors they have seen in the workplace. Here is a partial list of some behaviors/issues I have had to address:

  • Interrupting meetings
  • Supervisors treating employees poorly
  • Employees verbally attacking each other
  • Extreme body odor
  • Lack of attention in meetings
  • Too many personal phone calls at work
  • And many others.

For people who, like me, would rather avoid a confrontation, I offer these suggestions to ease the stress:

Be prepared

Pre-plan what you intend to say. In most situations, I don’t suggest that you read a prepared statement. However, you should be prepared.

Be brief

Get to the point quickly, and stay on topic. You will find it easier to be brief if you prepare in advance.

Be specific

Make sure you speak about specific behaviors – not your interpretations.

Here are some examples:

  • Rude, inconsiderate, disrespectful, arrogant, obnoxious, flighty, unfocused, smart aleck, and pushy are interpretations.
  • Interrupting, rolling eyes, speaking loudly (or softly), shrugging shoulders, looking away, walking away, and tone of voice are specific behaviors.

Explain the impact

Tell the person how other people perceive their behavior or how it affects team performance.

State the desired alternative – Go beyond a description of the negative behavior to describe what you expect in the future. By stating the desired positive behavior, you can use positive reinforcement rather than punishment to drive performance in the future.

Stay calm

The behavior may frustrate you, but now is not the time to vent. You want them to focus on your message and their behavior, not your frustration or anger.

By failing to address problem behaviors, leaders get more of them. As noted behavioral analyst Aubrey Daniels said, “Problems in the workplace are often created not by what we do, but by what we fail to do.”