3 Steps to Change Employee Behavior
We were giving a talk last week on "The Three Essentials You Need to Scale Your Organization" when we were asked a question about changing employee behavior. In response, we cited our book, Let Go to Grow, in which our advice was to "Hire behaviors, train skills."
Our belief is that it is difficult, if not impossible, to change a person’s core personality. You are not going to easily change someone from a free-flowing creative to a detailed-oriented stickler. However, changing behaviors “around the edges” may be possible if you follow the following three steps:
Measure the behavior.
Regardless of what the behavior is, the first step to changing it is to measure it. If at all possible, the measurement should be objective and quantified. Making the measure objective rather than subjective eliminates the possibility of an argument about the outcome.
As an example, let’s say that you are trying to get your employees to turn their time sheets in on time. The obvious measurement is, were the time sheets turned in on time? The answer is binary -- yes or no. They either were or weren’t. So, there should be no room for debate. Objective measures are preferable.
Second, the measures, if at all possible, should be quantified. If 20 of 25 time sheets were turned in on time, the on-time rate is 80 percent. Quantifiable measures can be tracked and plotted over time. Trends are easy to identify. Improvements are obvious; so are problems. Even subjective measures can be quantified. For example, suppose you want your phone answered with a pleasant voice. Whether a voice is pleasant is clearly subjective; but let's say there's a distinct difference.
The important thing is that the measure can be quantified. So, if the phone was answered with a pleasant voice 43 times out of 50, that was an 86 percent success rate.
Pay attention to the results.
It's great to measure behavior, which is the first step, but by itself measurement is insufficient. If you measure results, but they go into a drawer and you don’t pay attention to them, nothing will change.
We often say that what you measure and pay attention to is what you get. If you want time sheets turned in on time, measure performance and let people know that you are paying attention to the results. Post them. Announce them at company meetings. You have to make sure that everyone in the company knows that this is important to you.
Polly once used this philosophy to turn around a 500-person manufacturing facility from its less-than-30 percent on-time attendance to more than 70 percent -- in less than three months. She measured the performance, talked to each employee, ensured that management discussed attendance at all meetings and developed both positive and negative consequences for different behaviors. She also encouraged a change in company policies to reflect the focus on on-time attendance.
The results spoke -- and speak -- for themselves. What you measure and what you pay attention to is what you get.
Finally, there will need to be consequences for a failure to perform. Be careful about issuing draconian public decrees such as, "I’ll fire the next person whose time sheet is late." Suppose the next late time sheet comes from a 20-year employee who always turns in hers on time. However, on the Friday in question, she left the office early because her daughter was involved in an automobile accident, and the time sheet was forgotten.
Obviously, you’ll want to make an exception. However, you also don’t want to bend your policy. (In this case, of course, bend it.)
However, it would be much better for you to deal with repeat offenders privately. Be careful about making public ultimatums you may not want to enforce. If it becomes necessary to discipline a repeat offender, people will get the message.
By the way, consequences can be positive as well as negative. For example, you could buy the company lunch if employees achieve a particular threshold success rate.
Changing employee behavior can be difficult, but we’ve seen the three steps outlined above work time and time again. If you are committed and follow these steps faithfully, behaviors will change.