A Positive Route
to Productive Employee Behavior
“How can I get the most from my employees?” This is a universal question that I hear a lot. Business leaders don’t necessarily know how to motivate their employees to be their most productive and effective selves.
I'd be lying if I told you there was one easy answer…but you probably already knew there wasn’t!
The people in an organization are driven by the written, and more often unwritten, rules about behavior – what is and isn't acceptable, what is and isn’t noticed, what is and isn't rewarded, what is and isn't valued by management, and what they can and can't get away with. These “rules” create the driving force within an organization – the “organizational culture”.
Prior to starting my business, I worked for a small, privately-held company run by a world-class man. He was way ahead of his time and, unlike many other business owners, was wise enough to develop company values (respect, achievement, and self-development) and decision-making priorities (safety, quality, timeliness, profitability, fun) that gave each employee a path to making sound business decisions. These values and priorities were instilled throughout the organization, from the way people communicated with one another to the way employee benefits were determined. Yours truly trained the employees on these values and priorities so that everyone understood their meaning. In doing this, we developed an atmosphere of productivity, respect and continuous improvement.
But it wasn’t an easy, magical transition. When the culture took hold, employee turnover increased. For some employees, it was like trying to swim upstream against a strong current; their personal values just didn’t match the company culture. Eventually, these people left the organization. And that was just fine! Organizations don't need employees who don't match the company values and who pull others down with their negative attitudes and poor behavior. All told, the organization remained solid. We worked daily with each company value and decision-making priority firmly planted in our minds, and was reflected in our actions. It took time, but eventually “continuous improvement” went beyond mere words and became the way everyone worked. On a daily basis, employees found new ways to improve products and procedures which added to the bottom-line profits.
Culture lubricates an organization like oil in a car engine. It’s the main gear that all other gears revolve around. But coming up with a few company values and priorities is just the start. The entire organization must commit to living, breathing and acting on these values through everything it does. Each area represented on this diagram must be reviewed to ensure that the values are reinforced, recognized and rewarded. And when the values are not upheld, there needs to be discussion and disciplinary action to re-instill the desired behavior.
Defining and talking about company values is important, but nothing sets the tone more effectively than walking the talk! The leaders of the company, beginning with the owner, must set a positive example for others to follow. If the owner says, "Our company values a clean environment," yet has the messiest office anyone's ever seen, he or she is not sending the message that cleanliness is valued.
Case in point: At my previous job, when the owner wanted a cup of coffee, he got it himself and offered coffee to everyone around him. As an owner, it wasn't beneath him to pour coffee…or answer the phone if he saw the receptionist was swamped. And he always took time to talk to people and respected them as humans first and employees second.
What does your company value? Have you created the culture you want? It's never too late to make a change.