Behavior Management and Measurement
Focusing on How People Act, Not on What They Do
When the pressure is on to hit targets or deadlines, you'll likely be more concerned with what your people are doing than how they're doing it.
It may seem enough that they are hitting their numbers and rolling out projects on time, but the way people behave in the workplace can have an equally profound effect on the success of an organization or team.
There are tried-and-true models for managing and measuring most targets and goals. In contrast, managing behavior does not easily lend itself to numbers or timeframes.
Managing behavior requires a different approach to managing performance. In this article, we'll look at practical strategies for behavior management.
What Is Behavior Management?
Behavior management attempts to motivate and guide people to behave in certain ways, in particular settings. For example, parents teach children to be respectful to others, and therapists help patients to discover behaviors that will aid their recovery.
In the workplace, behavior management is about encouraging people to align their behavior with the organization's values and ethics. This can involve tackling bad behavior, such as bullying, and taking a stand on issues such as accepting gifts from suppliers. But it also means paying attention to little things, like keeping desks clean and making sure that meetings start on time.
Effective behavior management can bring significant benefits to an organization. For example, a 2017 study found that maintaining high ethical standards is key to an organization's long-term success.
Other benefits go beyond the bottom line. Teams and organizations with high standards of behavior and stong interpersonal relationships also enjoy higher levels of morale, trust and mutual acceptance.
This article considers how to deal with behavior that is legal, but undesirable. Illegal behavior, such as discrimination, is never acceptable, and should be dealt with promptly and firmly. For more information on how to define and handle negative behaviors, see our article, Bad Behavior at Work.
How to Manage Your People's Behavior
It's essential to "walk the talk" when you're managing the behavior of others. As we discuss in our article, How to Be a Good Role Model, behaviors – both good and bad – "trickle down" from the top. So, as their manager, your people take their behavioral cues from you.
If you display integrity, professionalism, emapthy, and positivity, these healthy behaviors will likely inspire your team members to behave similarly.
But, if you do identify a pattern of negative behavior in a team member, it's important to deal with it straight away. The behavior may get worse if you allow it to continue, as the perpetrator realizes that you've "turned a blind eye." Let's look at some actions that you can take:
Challenge the Offender
First, speak to your team member one-on-one. Tell him or her exactly what behavior you've observed, and how it has caused a problem. Give specific examples.
This initial discussion could easily become quite emotional or difficult for either party. So, to be sure that you have a Savvy Conversation, balance candor and focus with sensitivity and respect.
Be prepared for his possible reactions to being challenged. For example, he may try to make excuses, to change the subject, or to deny everything outright. You can find tips for handling this in our article, How to Manage Defensive People.
Ideally, once he's heard clear evidence of how his behavior is affecting his collegues, their productivity, or his own reputation, he will agree to modify his behavior. Help to support this change through coaching, if necessary. But, if you don't see any willingness to change, then you may have to consider disciplinary action.
Research suggests that our behavior is linked to our personality traits, and that it can impact our workplace relationships. Our article, The Hogan Development Survey, explores this issue, and identifies 11 common types of behavior that can harm a person's ability to work cooperatively.
Set Behavioral Goals
Setting objectives for a team member will give her a target to aim for. It will also give you a "yardstick" by which to measure her progress.
Effective behavioral goals are:
A positive vision. Good behavioral management focuses on the best possible future state that people can achieve.
For example, you might have a team member who is focused on tasks and driven by deadlines. The trouble is, she doesn't spare the feelings of anyone who she thinks blocks her route. She can be rude and aggressive to anyone who delays her, even if that person's input is justified.
Here, you could say, "Your attention to schedules is one of your greatest strengths. Ensure that you continue to meet your deadlines, while developing your skills in accepting feedback from others. This will help you to build better working relationships and to contribute more effectively to team goals."
Worded wisely. Be sure to phrase behavioral goals positively. If you're too negative, the team member may react defensively and resist the change. For example, let's say that you're asking someone to contribute more to meetings. He might be surly and noncommital in groups, or he may simply lack confidence. When you're setting him a behavior-related goal, you might be tempted to say, "Try not to be so awkward and quiet in team meetings!"
However, such phrasing could just antagonize him, or add to his anxiety. It would be more effective to say, "I'd really appreciate you bringing your experience and knowledge of systems management to the weekly team meetings. Regular updates would be useful to the team." This would encourage him to speak up about particular issues, which could in turn give him a cue to join in on other topics.
Specific. Target specific aspects of the behavior, and be clear on the actions your team member should take to accomplish them. This is particularly important if you're having to deal with difficult or disruptive behavior.
For example, a team member who has many good points might fail to organize her emails and calendar effectively. As a result, she misses important meetings and leaves colleagues unsure of what she is doing on a project.
In this instance, you could set a goal that she checks emails at specific times each day, and allocates her tasks to her calendar as soon as she takes them on, so that using it becomes second nature.
Generously timed: It's more difficult to set a target date for a behavioral goal than for a performance goal, because changing a deep-rooted habit or attitude takes time.
It's best to characterize the timeframe as "ongoing." This makes it clear that the behavioral improvements are subject to continuous evaluation. But when it becomes clear that there's consistent progress, you can assign a firm date for when observation can end.
How to Measure Progress and Give Feedback
Measuring progress toward behavior-based goals is trickier than with skills-related or outcome-based ones. You can't just dial up sales data or project status reports: you need to work closely with the individual concerned to see change occurring.
However, you can focus on specifics, even when dealing with qualitative, not quantitative, change. You based your team member's goals on observation, so you can evaluate his progress toward those goals in the same way.
Observe his actions yourself, and find out how they impact others. Do you notice a growing "feelgood factor" about him among his co-workers? Have you heard good reports about him from suppliers and customers? Perhaps his colleagues have commented on his more positive attitude, or an improvement in the quality of his contribution to the team.
Keep a record of how he is doing. Use objective, factual, specific descriptions, and share your observations through frequent feedback. You likely already have a performance appraisal process that involves regular meetings, so you can incorporate your feedback into those.
If not, hold weekly or fortnightly one-on-ones to review his progress. And be sure to ask your team member to say how he thinks he has done, and to provide specific examples. This will encourage him to take ownership of his own improvement.
Watch out for any reluctance to change, and follow up with appropriate action. Equally, remember to recognize any change for the better – this will help to embed new, positive behaviors as the norm.
Behavior management isn't just about correcting mistakes or misdemeanors. In fact, focusing too much on negatives can lead to hostility and defensiveness.
Instead, use the goal-setting and observation processes to emphasize and reward positive behavior, and to create a mutually agreed action plan for achieving the desired goal. You can learn more about this approach in our article, Solution-Focused Coaching.
Behavior management ensures that your people think about how they do things, as well as what they do.
Positive and ethical behavior is key to an organization's long-term success. It offers numerous benefits to individuals and teams, too.
Strategies for eliminating bad behaviors include setting a good example to your team members, challenging offenders, and setting behavioral goals.
It's also important to monitor the behaviors you are seeking to improve, to provide timely and detailed feedback and coaching on their progress, and to acknowledge improvements fairly.