Sum of Employee Behavior = Corporate Performance

Organizational analysis looks at businesses as whole entities—possibly shortchanging a closer look at the parts. Broad strokes of corporate mission, value statements, and strategic planning outline how the organization should conduct itself. It may be time to add a more granular level of scrutiny … looking at how individual employee behavior affects a business.

We live in a time of instant information—a form of global feedback. Just in the last few months we have seen literally hundreds of business leaders, political leaders, sports people, media artists—whose harmful personal conduct toward others was exposed. The public reaction was overwhelming, powerful, and negative—in that reputations were ruined, and careers were ended.

Some of the unintended consequences of technology innovation and social media, are seen in the alterations of human interaction, such as increased confrontation, and a decline of interpersonal courtesy. These are the new realities that affect the cultures of small and large businesses.

In a small business, any individual employee action has a greater magnitude of potential impact compared to a larger business. In a group of 10, one person stands out more than in a group of 200. The actions of each employee affect the health and growth of the business.

With increasing social challenges, there are also opportunities. A business can differentiate itself by transforming potential negatives of human behavior—into systems of positive change.

A business may need to offer additional training and development time. That may include information and facilitation about ethics and moral actions. It may be programs to build skills in the “soft” areas of communication, interpersonal dynamics, and problem solving.

Adding human performance coaching as an employee benefit, could increase individual awareness. Coaching can build individual strengths, increase emotional, social, and conversational intelligence. All of these can dramatically improve organizational well-being.

If this appears to the reader as overly moralizing or overstepping the bounds of management—there is a larger cultural sea change occurring. Awareness has been raised about how human beings should act toward each other. Business cultures that violate these evolving expectations could realize negative financial consequences.

It is not a “high bar” for a business to take a stand against harassment or bullying. Policies should outline how employees should treat each other—and particularly how to interact with customers.

The correlation between strong business cultures, and positive business performance is known and statistically proven. Leaders, managers, supervisors, and employees who conduct themselves from principles and character will serve a business well. Over the long run, investing in human assets will have a positive financial payoff.

The “Blank Slate” of Change

Many of us attempt to write the script for new beginnings on our personal New Year’s “blank slate.” Because of socially shared beliefs in free will, positive thinking, and individual effort—we believe we can change whatever we choose.

Markets and businesses continually change. Metrics can motivate a business to act on its goals—such as sales, revenue, and overall growth objectives. Strategic planning focuses on the what, but may not adequately address how to make it happen.

Technically, once we have lived a few years we are not really blank slates, because we accumulate knowledge, capabilities, and experience. We also have a lot of baggage—dysfunctional behaviors, bad habits, biases, and an assortment of self-deceptions. Humans are complex beings, not robots. We have big brains that process a wide range of emotions, experiences, and desires. These factors make self-change, and organizational change complicated and difficult.

Reinforcers … the events that follow an action—control human behavior. Reinforcers that are positive will make a behavior stronger, but a punisher may eliminate it. Habits are strengthened and maintained by personal payoffs—and therefore are difficult to change. To maintain a new habit, you must have an alternative—and stronger payoff.

Business leaders and managers can use rigorous metric analysis to get information. Statistical processes examine every step and event, to see where the problems occur. Too often we try to change human behavior by sheer force of will—”let’s just do better.” But if we do not have honest and open communication to perform “root cause” analyses,” how will we isolate what to change? You cannot change what you do not know.

Leaders will fail to improve workforce activities if they demand different results—without understanding the complexities of cause and effect. Knowing which actions are correlated to which results, will support a change initiative.  Additionally, positive changes can be maintained with meaningful reward and recognition.

Prudent business managers construct positive organizational cultures. They understand what motivates an employee to do well on the job. They peel back the layers to get at “why does this problem happen, and what can we change—to get the results we want?”

Organizational change is not easy, but if you learn the right things about your business—positive change is possible.

Congruence–When Your Business Is Consistent

In the practice of mental health, a major goal is congruency—consistency among the perceived self, the actual self, and the ideal self. For organizational health, employee behaviors should be congruent with company goals. It is when … what you say you will do, is the same as what you do.

If you want to get colloquial, congruency is when a company “walks the talk.” The word alignment is used a lot in business performance theory. Whether it is describing culture, leadership, employee engagement, customer experience or other elements … it is basically matching words to behavior.

Strong and effective business cultures are congruent. Expectations are understood, and they are achieved.

We have all seen when the “boss” says one thing and does another, and how it damages morale and employee engagement. Or when an employee talks about doing a better job—but doesn’t. How about when businesses say, “we take care of our customers,” but don’t?

Because businesses are filled with people, there are organizational blind spots. Leaders can be over confident about their own abilities—no one likes to admit shortcomings. Inconsistency in organizational practices, or ones that don’t make logical sense, can damage employee motivation. Employee disengagement limits positive customer experiences.

Any of these negative elements can derail a company.

We know from science that energy is conserved, and that it is a function of where energy is directed. People can resist change because of the belief that it takes a lot of work to change. But if you observe people—it can be astounding to see how much energy is expended to maintain dysfunctional behavior, to deceive others, or to “put on a front?”

At GAPWORX we say, “you can’t change what you don’t know.” We talk about becoming more aware—before acting. People seek out mental health practitioners because they are stuck in behavioral patterns. Therapists provide insight and understanding to their clients, create alternative ways of thinking, and help them make better decisions. Likewise, for businesses—outside objectivity and perspective can be a real stimulus for positive organizational change.

Business leaders should strive for congruent organizations, where the actions of employees fulfill company mission and values. It is the satisfaction experienced by their customers … “they said it right, and they did it right.”

Start From the Inside

At GAPWORX, we work primarily with small companies led by entrepreneurs—the captains of their own boats. There is an understandable reluctance on their part to take things outside. Self-reliance can be a good thing … if there is a strong organizational culture and requisite resources of talent and time. There is a lot of useful outside expertise available for companies, but often it is perceived as “you’re telling me what to do,” instead of “helping me make my company better.”

It could be helpful to think—that instead of “outside in,” it could be “inside out.” Meaning, if you want a strong business culture, employee engagement, and customer engagement—the organization must have accurate information, meaningful communication, and effective systems. All individuals within an organization must possess personal motivation, ownership, and accountability—and then act that way.

Think of it as the intrapersonal drives the interpersonal. Intrapersonal attributes are individual self-awareness, critical thinking, effective mental habits, and emotional intelligence. Interpersonal effectiveness is when self-aware, self-motivated, and capable individuals work together within the organization to accomplish collective and shared goals. Conversational intelligence among employees, which relate company stories, positive customer experiences, and problem-solving—all build shared meaning, beliefs, and the “esprit de corps” needed to keep the company moving forward. This exemplifies the socially intelligent organization.

We encourage businesses to look beyond packaged “one size fits all” programs for organizational change. There are no silver bullet or bolt on solutions that work for every business. For any change process to work it must capture the “hearts and minds” of the people who do the everyday work. For organizations that are small or closely held—the more important it is to get everyone’s input, to analyze weaknesses and problems, implement solutions, and build systems.

Intellectual honesty—as Jim Collins calls “confronting the brutal facts,” can identify the rational elements that need attention. Employee emotions must be accounted for, as well. Organizations with clear vision and mission can build intrapersonal strength with leadership, mentoring, and coaching. Strong individuals can make for interpersonally effective teams.

Outside expertise and consultation that incorporates objectivity, feedback, and facilitation can yield tremendous results. No individual, or no organization, is completely self-aware. Even though it is a cliché—you can’t work on, or change what you don’t know.

Training is Learning … to Succeed

Humans evolved by adapting and adjusting to change. We learned by experience to manage threats.

Businesses operate within competitive environments, but it is not just a Darwinian “survival of the fittest.” By understanding market demand, businesses can respond to customer needs … and if they innovate, improve, and differentiate themselves—they can become financially successful.

It’s the people within each company that recognize opportunities, solve problems, and provide solutions. Management guru Peter Drucker recommended that companies invest 5-15% of revenues on training and development. He was really saying that if a company’s greatest resources are its people, then they should be treated as assets to be developed. Employee knowledge and capabilities are the tools a company uses—to build its customer base.

Many professions require continuing education, but too often companies view training as “overhead” costs to be minimized, rather than as investments in people—and in the future of the business. Consequences of this short-sided thinking are mistakes, unsolved problems, negative customer experiences, lost time, and revenue.

Autumn is traditionally “back to school.” Because the marketplace is always changing—businesses are never out of school. To manage change, businesses should embrace continuous learning.

  1. The purpose for training should be clearly communicated to employees, and why improving specific job capabilities is good for the company.
  2. Training should have direct application to each employee’s job, whether it is to expand knowledge, build skills, or improve collaboration within teams.
  3. All company leaders should fully commit to training.
  4. Company leaders, managers, and supervisors should become coaches, use constructive feedback, work with employees to improve specific behaviors, and monitor everyone’s progress.

Job specific learning is crucial for employee development. Engaged employees are better at providing quality products and services to their company’s customers.

Success is when all company leaders and employees do the right things at the right time. Whether training is applying job specific information, or about building a positive company culture … there is no substitute for learning.