Let me guess. I bet you are dealing with a whole host of difficult problems at work: absenteeism, poor quality work, toxic personalities, disconnection, abuse of power, and abuse of privilege.
We’ve gotten better at calling out bad behaviors, but the bad behaviors continue to persist. What do we do about it?
I’m constantly coaching leaders dealing with these issues. There is a single question that underpins all of my advice:
Have you made the standard clear?
Leaders often assume that people should know better. They don’t. Family situations vary widely and while I was taught to help clean up and wash the dishes, others are more than content to put their feet up on the furniture. My standard is not your standard. Not until I make it clear.
Clearly communicating the standard and what it looks like sets the foundation for leader-employee coaching conversations. What a common goal in mind, anyone can now describe the gap between that goal and observed behavior. We can describe the consequences of non-compliance (my mother will kill us both if she finds shoeprints on the coffee table!).
But this is too easy. Our very nature predisposes us to notice when things are out of order, incomplete, or just wrong. We focus on the negative because it messes with our expectations of ‘what should be.’ We are motivated to point out discrepancies so they can be corrected. But no one likes being continually hit with the stick of correction. And while I support the use of the positive-negative-positive sandwich when coaching, we can do better. Anyone who has been around a while can smell ‘constructive feedback’ coming a mile away when that first layer of bread comes out. You know the next layer is bound to leave a bitter aftertaste.
There’s a Chinese bakery nearby that makes the most delicious pastries. Their croissants have no filling and don’t need any. They delight all alone.
Outside of a performance discussion, you don’t need any filling either. Psychologists have demonstrated again and again the ability to shape behavior through positive reinforcements. Therefore,
Catch them doing something right.
Chuck the sandwich out the window and start hunting for examples of people doing the right things, or just part of the right things, taking steps towards the goal. Recognize them in the moment. Don’t wait for your next performance review. Spontaneous recognition is like when someone pays for your donut before you get to the front of the line. It’s unexpected and delightful! And it’s a critical part of building a high-performance culture. Toxic and mediocre people soon learn they are out of step with expectations.
When was the last time you caught your people (doing something) right-handed?