Why you can't fix staff behaviour

23 April 2019 | 4 Minute(s) to read

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Why you can't fix staff behaviour

23 April 2019 | 4 Minute(s) to read

< Back to blogs

When I was a child and I got upset I would go up to my room and slam the door. It was incredibly satisfying. I would instantly feel calmer and more relaxed. Of course, it had the opposite effect on my parents.


One day my Dad sat me down for the hard talk - I was absolutely not to slam my door anymore, "or else!" He took me upstairs to show me the large crack I had created that went all the way up the wall and across the ceiling.


I remember promising I wouldn’t do it anymore. Trouble was, it was so satisfying. But I kept my promise and from that day on when I got upset, I didn’t slam my door. Instead I would go upstairs and slam my sister’s door.


Looking back on this story, I think it is a great example of how we focus more on the behaviour we don’t want rather than clarifying and shaping the behaviour we do want to see, then wonder why the negative behaviour pattern continues.


If we instead spent time shaping and setting expectations for the behaviour we want to see often the ‘bad’ behaviour will disappear on its own accord.

staff behaviour 2

Recently at a client meeting there was talk of "fixing" an employee whose behaviour was deemed to be inappropriate. But when we try to "fix" someone (a term I hate), apart from implying that there is only one "right" way to behave, we make the mistake of assuming we can adjust someone’s behaviour by focusing on what they are doing wrong.


The best way to achieve high performance is by focusing on the behaviour you want to see and recognising any steps that an individual makes towards this end.


Often, we get frustrated in others when they don’t perform in the way we would like. Without realising it, we often withhold praise and encouragement until we see the behaviour we are looking for.

staff behaviour 3

A recent client - let’s call him Bob - was given feedback by his manager that he wasn’t collaborating effectively with the team and the rest of the team felt uncomfortable working with him or approaching him for advice. With my encouragement, Bob made some small steps to socialise and interact more. However, his efforts were overlooked by the team, who were still focused on the behaviour they didn’t like and that he still hadn’t achieved what they wanted.


The result of this, of course, was that Bob lost all motivation to shift his behaviour and became even more entrenched in his negative behavioural pattern. 

staff behaviour 4 


As leaders and managers - when we want someone to behave differently or lift their performance - rather than expecting immediate change, we need to think about how we can shape their performance and recognise that any step - no matter how small - is a step in the right direction, and one that can be reinforced and rewarded.


Shaping behaviour is breaking down the behaviour you would like to see into small progressive steps. Each step is reinforced so that an individual is motivated by their own perceived capability.

staff behaviour 5 


I wonder what would have happened if Bob’s team were able to embrace this idea and had rewarded Bob every time, he started a conversation or talked openly about what he was working on?


And this brings me to ask you: how well are you focusing on what you want to see from your team, rather that the behaviour you think you need to fix? How would you break this down into steps so that you can start to really shape your team’s performance?