What Were They Thinking?

Posted on January 27, 2013 by Keith Sanders No Comments


What is unacceptable behavior?  How do you deal with it?  If you watch the news regularly, you will find it difficult to escape the air time devoted to people’s weird and sometimes mysterious behavior.  In fact, you might find yourself saying “what were they thinking?”

From athletes using steroids, politicians attempting to exchange power for money, or reality TV parents looking for fame, we as a society tend to share our various opinions on what is still considered acceptable in our communities and what actions are outside the “norms”.  What about in your workplace?  Who determines the standard?  If you don’t clarify expectations for the people within your organization, then they will make their own rules.  If you are a part of a team that allows for that type of flexibility, then maybe you consider yourself lucky.  However, most organizations, no matter how open to employee input about standards, still realize the need for a few policies in order to smooth operations.

So, regardless of how you feel about these celebrities or their alleged shenanigans, how do you hold people accountable?  What about co-workers who knowingly break the rules?  If you are a manager or supervisor, what happens when team members don’t complete assignments on time?  Come in late?  Instigate arguments with other staff?  If you are a parent, what happens when your children are unruly?

There are essentially three approaches I teach.  We can:

  1. IGNORE IT – This is not the one I recommend, but it is worth mentioning because this is the option the majority of us leans toward.  Passive people who just want to keep the peace will feel like they are avoiding conflict if they ignore negativity or unacceptable behaviors.  However, ignoring it now might actually result in a bigger problem later after rumors spread or other employees start emulating the undesirable behavior.  One might think he or she is preserving the “relationship” with that one person, but may be helping sabotage any relationship they have built with the rest of the team.  If a manager continues to ignore behaviors that are detrimental to the function of the company, he or she can begin to expect resentment from those who feel they are following the “rules.”
  2. HOLD THEM ACCOUNTABLE – In the same way managers have a responsibility to clarify expectations for employees, employees also must understand they have a responsibility to restate and reaffirm those expectations for each other.  The strongest teams, I have found, possess individuals who are confident in their abilities and in communicating openly with each other regarding systems, strategies and procedures, even when management is not present.  When holding others accountable, especially when negative consequences or discipline is discussed, make sure the “punishment” fits the crime.  In other words, you can also expect resentment if other employees think you were too harsh in your approach.  Resist the urge to make an example out of an employee, instead sticking to the company’s written procedures for handling that behavior.  If your company does not have a plan of action, consider suggesting one.
  3. LAUGH IT OFF – Sometimes, finding humor in a stressful situation can be the best approach.  Before taking this stance, one must be sure this option is not going to produce a pattern of unacceptable behavior.  Laughing it off, simply stated, means realizing good people can occasionally make stupid mistakes.  If we are certain the person is truly remorseful, has learned from the experience and we do not expect a repeat performance, then we could possibly take this approach.  Also, one should ensure no customers or co-workers were harmed during the person’s moment of stupidity, so one must be willing to look at the “big picture” effects of the person’s behavior as well.  Did the company’s image suffer?  Did your customer still get what he or she needed from you?

The main issue to think about is, whatever your approach, that you yourself are establishing a behavior so employees or co-workers will know what to expect from you going forward.  If you have done an excellent job clarifying expectations and training staff on the front end, you will spend less time having to confront others about their unacceptable behavior.  That’s what makes a true “No Excuses” Leader.




photo courtesy imagerymajestic/FreeDigitalPhotos.net


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