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Business Observer Friday, Apr. 13, 2012 8 years ago

How to guide your employees' behavior

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Steps to help positively influence your employees to achieve their potential.
by: Denise Federer Bottom-line Behavior

One of the most difficult tasks you will face as a leader is positively influencing your employees to achieve their potential. When an individual is responsive and open to suggestions, guiding them to elevate their self-expectations can be relatively simple. However, dealing with a valued employee who is unmotivated, resistant to change or appears “stuck in a rut” can be both frustrating and daunting. It's not only annoying, but it can also be perilous for your business.

Fortunately, as a leader and business owner, you have the potential to play a powerful role in guiding your employees to make changes to their behavior, initiate steps to be more proactive, and make a greater contribution to your organization. The key to impacting your employees' actions is twofold: identifying the critical factors required in influencing behavior; and developing a strategy for interacting with them that incorporates these principles.

The Problem
The disconnect between a business leader's expectations and an employee's response usually results from differing perspectives.

Leaders often assume that their staff not only embrace the company's culture, but also possess the skills to translate those values into action. However, when employees' behavior doesn't reflect these expectations, the outcome can lead to frustration and disillusionment for both you and them, which derails their future role and contributions to your company.

For example, perhaps there is an issue with a client who is dissatisfied with your business. As a leader, you may expect the team member responsible for client relationships to contact the client, assess the problem and offer a solution that will ensure client loyalty, such as offering a credit for future services.

While it is obvious to you that your resolution might result in a slight monetary loss in the short term, the long-term impact of maintaining a satisfied client could be immeasurable both financially and in the goodwill that would result.

Unfortunately, your employee's reaction to the situation may not be timely or reflect this philosophy, resulting in a customer who is even more dissatisfied. You may wonder incredulously: How could your employee not “get it?”

The truth is that everyone has a different perspective, which impacts their behavior. Some people are so focused on the minute details of the moment, they are not able to see the bigger picture. Or perhaps they are uncomfortable with conflict or anxious when negotiating a compromise with unhappy clients.

Regardless of how irrational you may think these concerns and limitations are, it is important for you to understand your employees' apprehensions, viewpoint and assumptions. This will not only allow you to predict how likely they are to comply with your requests, but it can provide insight into the best strategy to effectively guide them to better results.

The Solution
Psychological research has recognized key factors that influence behavior. As you review some of these factors, consider one or two situations where staff members have been unresponsive to your suggestions in the past. In an effort to help you predict your potential influence on their behavior, ask yourself how you believe they would rate in these areas.

Does your employee see the need to take action? In order for someone to be willing to take an action, they must understand the purpose.

What are the external factors interfering with compliance? Are there physical factors inhibiting your employees' compliance, such as the inability to get a client's number, or a scheduling difficulty ?

Does your employee have the requisite knowledge needed to successfully complete the desired behavior? Make no assumptions about your employees' skills. When giving instructions, be sure to confirm their understanding of the tasks expected of them.

What are your employees' fears and concerns that interfere with their commitment to the desired behavior? Once your employee understands the importance of taking an action, you have to determine what beliefs or irrational fears might interfere with their compliance. (i.e., fear of difficult conversations or making a mistake.)

Is there an expectation in their social network to engage in the desired behavior? Don't underestimate the power of group behavior. If there is a social norm amongst their teammates to engage in an action, there is a greater likelihood they will do it.

Does your employee have the confidence to successfully engage in the desired behavior? Just as important as having the skills needed to take action is possessing the confidence to be able to initiate and maintain the required behaviors. It is important that you break down complex behavior into small, doable steps. You must also monitor and check in with the individual on a regular basis to be sure they are doing the things you expect.

The Plan
To effectively influence your staff, you have to be clear about what specific behavior you need from them and develop a strategic plan to get your team to comply with your requests. Take a moment to summarize your assessment of the reluctant personnel you previously identified. Which of the six factors discussed highlight areas of deficit for them?

Consider devising a plan to influence them to engage in essential behaviors (i.e. proactively contacting clients; initiating new ideas; eliminating the “not my job” mentality and becoming a better team member). Be sure to clearly define your expectations, break down complex behaviors into simple steps, set realistic target dates for completion of desired behaviors and reevaluate the plan if it isn't working.

The most critical aspect of creating a successful plan is to invoke an essential leadership rule: Make no assumptions! Remember that not using your potential to influence your employees' behavior is a missed opportunity to help your business.

Denise P. Federer, Ph.D. is founder and principal of Federer Performance Management Group, and she has 27 years of experience working with key executives, business leaders and Fortune 500 companies as a behavioral psychologist, consultant, coach and trainer. Contact her at: [email protected]

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