What to do about the high-performing employee who continuously fails to live up to the organisation’s behavioural standards? How you answer this question sends a very loud message to your employees and others. If you give a high-achieving employee a pass on behavioural standards, you are telling your employees that financial results are more important than ethics, people and values; if you dismiss the employee, you are telling them that the organisation will uphold its principles – that values guide the organisation’s decision-making.
So what are behavioural standards? Behaviours are the how (i.e. how someone goes about doing his or her job). The targets, goals and KPIs are the what (i.e. the end result). You need both – the what and the how.
Behavioural standards exist to support the values of the business, which in turn support the vision. Along with leadership, the values and behaviours are the most critical components of your organisation’s culture, so it is obviously important to hold employees to clear behavioural standards.
I want to compare two CEOs. The first CEO was the head of a national sales and marketing company. A sales manager who had been with the company for some time delivered fantastic results each month, but he was widely disliked by his colleagues: he frequently took sole credit for sales that had been the result of teamwork; he over-promised on delivery times (placing undue pressure on the already overburdened distribution team); and he offered customers deep discounts (which helped his sales numbers but eroded profit and damaged the brand). The CEO gave the sales manager chance after chance to improve his conduct. He was coaxed and coached, all to little or no effect. Customers and colleagues complained, but the CEO refused to let the axe fall on his most productive salesperson. By the time the sales manager left, the culture, customer relationships, the brand, and employee morale had all suffered.
Contrast this to the second CEO, who was faced with a similar dilemma. The CEO learned that a high-performing member of her leadership team had been gossiping maliciously, breaching confidentiality, and behaving dishonestly. Some of the behaviour potentially serious enough to damage the external reputation of the organisation, and definitely impacting the culture, employee turnover, and leadership team cohesion. Even though the manager worked well with the CEO, the CEO made the tough decision to exit the manager (after investigation and fair process of course).
To put the matter simply, your company will not be a great employer by allowing employees (even high-performing ones) to duck under the behavioural bar you set when you establish your values. Without enforced behavioural standards, values aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.
Developing and implementing behavioural standards means that they should be utilised and reinforced as frequently as possible. They should, in a way, guide everything that employees do (and how they do it). To ensure that employees remain on their best behaviour, you’ll need to follow the below six steps.
- When you are developing your vision and values, be sure to develop a list of the behaviours you need people to demonstrate when doing their jobs. Without behavioural standards, though, the vision and the values can lack practicality.
- Behaviours should play a large part in the selection process; behavioural interviews and psychometric testing will help you recognise candidates who will be prone to misbehaviour.
- Also, whenever you are training employees (new or existing ones), be sure to address and reinforce the behavioural standards frequently.
- Your performance review system should include both performance objectives and behavioural standards. Be careful not to overlook behavioural issues when reviewing high-performing employees (do so and these problematic behaviours will, sooner or later, come back to haunt you).
- Reward and recognise employees based on how well they adhere to the behavioural standards.
- If an employee fails to consistently abide by the behavioural standards you’ve chosen to implement, there need to be serious consequences. Use specific examples of times when the employee has failed to abide by behavioural standards; whenever possible, outline how this has negatively impacted their colleagues or the organisation.
Remember, the ‘how’ you go about your job is even more important than the ‘what’, so think seriously about which behaviours you want to promote and which you want to eliminate. Implement the standards in the right way and behavioural issues should be relatively few and far between.
Written by Claire Harrison, Author of The CEO Secret Guide to Managing and Motivating Employees, and Managing Director of Harrison Human Resources.