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The Change Designs Blog is a collection of insights, personal stories and real life experiences from people working in organizations. In this blog you will find real life stories depicting magical experiences and struggles, where the truth is richer, stranger and more practical than any theory or model. If you've ever wanted to read the diary of a leader, strategist, change agent, consultant, facilitator or a coach, or you are grappling with problems at work, then you will enjoy reading this practical blog.

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Leadership and employee behaviour

Ruth Tearle - Thursday, July 14, 2016

Catch them doing it right.


This post describes an interesting dynamic at work. What leaders notice and acknowledge, affects employee behaviour in an organisation.

As leaders, we often spend a lot of time and money on solving problems or fixing weaknesses The most frustrating and overwhelming of all problems are those caused by employees. Especially when the same problems occur over and over again.fog

We wish for a culture of 'high performers', and of employees who provide 'excellent customer service.' But what we get is the complete opposite. More and more of our time as leaders, is spent on customer complaints and difficult employees. What is most irritating is employees who keep behaving in the wrong way to our customers and to one another - in spite of our efforts. We explain to them what we expect of them. We have meetings with them. We write emails. We document what we want. We hold workshops. But their behaviour doesn't change. Customer complaints continue.

As leaders, we find ourselves spending more and more time dealing with difficult people who are not performing. This means we have less time to spend on developing strategy, developing new products and services, improving systems, motivating people, or developing the organisation. We also find that because we spend so much time dealing with 'problem children', we tend to ignore our super stars. Like middle children in a family, their needs come last. Because they don't demand attention or cause crises, we tend to only notice our super stars when they resign.

We have tried everything to solve the situation. We have introduced new organisational and team values. We have introduced culture change programmes. We instituted a performance management system. But our employees behave in the same way as before.

We have tried to take holidays to deal with our stress. But one day back at work, and it all starts again.

Our employees soon learn that the only way to get our attention is to create a problem.

Like the story of the headmaster who doesn't want to go to school, we find that we are dreading going to work. We just know that every day there will be more problems to deal with. We continually have to point out to people what they are doing wrong. We are so irritated with the constant need to solve unneccesary problems that we find ourselves snapping at people - both our superstars and problem children. Then we find even our superstars are getting it wrong. This is the last straw for us.

Something has to change!

All we want is a magic wand which would:

  • Get our employees to do the right thing and behave in the right way so they can delight our customers.
  • Receive thank you letters and testimonials about our employees, rather than complaints, from our customers.
  • Free up our time as leaders, so we can strategise, innovate, motivate and develop our organisation for the future.

employee behaviourThe magic wand to change employee behaviour.

There is a simple magic wand you can use to change employee behaviour. It is free. It is simple. You don't need to analyse it, unpack it, or roll it out.

As a leader all you have to do to change employee behaviour is to:

Catch people doing it right, and acknowledge them publically.

In other words, simply:

1. Notice employees who do things right. E.g. they delight a customer, or do what they say they are going to do, or they help out others in the organisation to provide good service to customers.

2. Recognise them publically. e.g. Share the story of what they did and what their customer said about them. Create heroes out of ordinary employees who simply do what is right.

3. Stop giving attention to people who create problems and crises. They often do this as an attention seeking device.

Case studies of using acknowledgement to change behaviour

I have seen two companies in service industries, change employee behaviour by changing what leaders acknowledge.

To change employee behaviour,

first change what and who you give your attention to, as a leader.

The first company was in the financial services industry, and the second in the health care industry.

Both companies wanted to develop a customer focus culture. The leaders of the companies communicated what behaviours they wanted to see from their employees to everyone in the company. Then the leaders at all levels were tasked with recognising employees who delighted their customers and sharing their stories with the rest of the company. They shared:

  1. Who the employee was.
  2. What the employee did to delight a customer.
  3. What feedback the customer gave in the form of a testimonial, a quotation, or a thank you letter.

During the first few months, a few managers collected and shared what customers were saying about their employees. Then other managers and leaders copied them. Soon there were customer compliments flooding the organisation. e.g. customers were saying:

  • "Your staff wowed me."
  • "She went beyond the call of duty - while off duty."
  • "She noticed something wasn't working. It was something we'd given up complaining about. She sorted it out immediatly for us, even though we didn't ask her to."
  • "You are the only company I know that has phoned back when they promised to."
  • "Thank you for your patience and help."
  • "Your advice was very clear and easy to follow."
  • "I enjoy dealing with your company now."

Employees started 'outperforming' one another in order to delight their customers, and get recognition from their leaders. For example one customer wrote.

Instead of creating problems to get their leader's attention, employees created legends.

  • " I was delayed and inbetween 2 flights. I didn't have time to collect my credit card. It was a Sunday, but she came to the airport and delivered my card to me before my flight left."

Instead of catching people doing things wrong, the leaders' role became one of encouraging and acknowledging people who did things right. Instead of creating problems, employees were now creating legends. And the leaders enjoyed their jobs again.

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