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.

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.