It’s not true in every organization, but it is true in many: Leaders don’t understand their employees. They don’t 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?”
And more. I also hear all kinds of answers for each situation. Some proposals are good, and some are not. The good suggestions show an understanding of human nature and an effort to apply behavioral principles. The bad ones usually feel good to the manager, but they violate some basic principle of human relations and interaction.
Human behavior is a complex subject. However, events that appear to be random, isolated behaviors actually fit into predictable patterns for most people. If you understand the patterns, you will know what to do in most situations. I’ve developed the Five Be’s of Motivation to reduce some of these patterns to five easy to remember and apply principles. So, let’s get started …
People pretty much do things for one of two reasons: to avoid pain or to pursue pleasure. As a leader, you constantly work between these two options. If you use negatives, such as verbal reprimands, threats or other punishments, to drive behavior, people will do just enough to avoid the pain. You will condemn yourself to bare minimum effort from your employees. If you focus on rewarding good behaviors, you improve the odds that you will get cooperation and extra, discretionary effort rather than conflict, complaints and bare minimum performance.
Noticing unacceptable behaviors and stopping them with punishment is easy. It takes effort to recognize good behaviors and praise them. You need to do both; but the more you recognize the good, the less likely you are to see the bad.
Make sure you discuss specific behaviors. Whether you administer discipline or offer praise, the more specific you make your words, the better. Emotional involvement, like when you are angry, over employees’ negative behavior, often makes being specific a bigger challenge, as you discuss problem behaviors.
For example, let’s say an employee consistently challenges you in meetings. Many leaders get angry with the situation and tell the employee to “stop being rude and inconsiderate.” Unfortunately, “rude” and “inconsiderate” are interpretations rather than behaviors. A better statement would be, “I don’t appreciate it when you interrupt me. I see those behaviors as rude and inconsiderate. I won’t do it to you, and I don’t want you doing it to me.” Have the conversation in private, and depending on the situation, take further disciplinary action based on company history and workplace rules.
Examples of interpretations: rude, inconsiderate, disrespectful, arrogant, obnoxious, flighty, unfocused, hateful, slacking, unmotivated, and pushy
Examples of specific behaviors: interrupting, rolling eyes, speaking loudly (or softly), shrugging shoulders, looking away, walking away, not responding to messages within 24 hours, and tone of voice.
People generally act based on what they expect to happen to them in the future. Whether it’s avoiding pain or pursuing pleasure, it’s still about expectations for the future. 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 business. People need to know the rules. They need to know what to expect when they follow the rules and when they don’t.
Consistency 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, always reward them. If you say that certain behaviors are unacceptable, always act to stop them.
When your employees do something worthy of praise — offer it in the moment. When they need correction — do it the moment they need it. Delayed consequences have very little impact on behavior.
Acting immediately has an added benefit when the behavior is inappropriate. If the behavior continues without correction, you are likely to get angrier every time you see it. As you get angrier, you will probably have more difficulty keeping your response proportional to the behavior. Act now and you will be better able to maintain self-control.
For more great leadership advice, check out my Talk Like a Leader Podcast, a weekly podcast that explores the mindset, skillset, and habit set of leadership communication. Using his tips, techniques, and tactics, you’ll be able to Talk Like a Leader to build better relationships and get more done.