Tag Archives: behavior

How We Get to Customs and Rituals

Some time ago, writing a role description, I added Culture as a Key Result Area. What is the accountability of a manager in the Key Result Area (KRA) of Company Culture?

There are several frames in which to look at company culture. The one I currently kick around is –
That unwritten set of rules that governs our required behavior in the work that we do together. It is an unwritten set of rules in contrast to our written set of rules, policies, procedures. And, culture is often more powerful than any policy we may write or attempt to officially enforce. Sometimes, culture even works against our stated policy.

What is the accountability of a manager in the Key Result Area (KRA) of Company Culture?

  • What is the source of culture, where does it start?
  • How is culture visible, how do we see it?
  • How is culture tested?
  • How is culture institutionalized, reinforced and perpetuated?

These are the four questions in the Culture Cycle.

Culture Starts
The source of culture is the way we see the world. It includes our bias, our experience, our interpretation of our experience. Culture is the story we carry into our experience that provides the lens, the frame, the tint, the brightness or darkness of that story.

Culture is Visible
Culture, the way we see the world drives our behavior. We cannot see the bias in others. We cannot see their interpretations of the world. We cannot see the story people carry in their minds, but, we can see behavior. Culture drives behavior. Behavior makes culture visible.

Behavior, driven by culture, is constantly tested against the reality of consequences. For better or worse, behaviors driven by culture are proven valid, or not. Our culture stands for what we tolerate. This is counter to the notion of the lofty intentions of honesty and integrity. Our culture stands for the behaviors we tolerate.

Customs and Rituals
Behaviors that survive, for better or worse, are institutionalized in our rituals and customs. This ranges from the peer lunch on a team member’s first day at work (for better), to the hazing in a fraternity house (for worse). But, it all starts with the way we see the world. -Tom Foster

Defining Culture as Behavior

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

When you described culture as a Key Result Area, you said the manager should be an effective model for behaviors that support the company’s culture. I am looking at our company’s mission, vision, values and it’s not really clear what those behaviors are.

The reason it’s not clear is that most mission, vision, values placards are not user friendly. There is no clarity because the company (the CEO, executive managers, managers and supervisors) have not made it clear. If you want clear behaviors, you have to define them.

For example, if teamwork is an agreed-upon value. “Our company values teamwork in its approach to problem solving and decision making.” What are the behaviors connected with teamwork? Spell it out.

Our company values teamwork in its approach to problem solving and decision making. Given a problem to solve, each team member, using their full commitment and capability is required to give their supervisor or manager “best advice.” Given a problem to solve, each manager or supervisor is required to collect facts about the problem by listening to “best advice” from their team. Only after thorough discussion and consideration of the data, contributing factors, circumstances and alternatives, will the manager or supervisor make the decision about the course of action to solve the problem. Our company acknowledges that this may be cumbersome and slow down the problem solving process AND it acknowledges that this process will be a learning tool for each team member in problem solving. In the short term, this process may slow things down AND in the long run, this process will prepare each team member to solve more complicated problems. This is not a suggestion, this is a requirement. -Tom
You may recognize “best advice” from Nick Forrest in How Dare You Manage?

Routine Grooved Behaviors

“I understand,” Marietta replied. “I got it. The way you explained it, now I know what to do.”

“You understand, in one part of your brain, but in the heat of the day, another part of your brain will want to do what it has always done,” I observed.

“But, now, I know what to do differently,” she protested.

“And, when you walk into the situation, that other part of your brain will take over and you will fall back on your habits, your grooved behaviors, even if they were not successful.”

“I hope that won’t happen,” Marietta flatly said.

“The only way to act in your new understanding, is to practice, practice and practice, until your new understanding becomes a habit. Only then will you be able to execute in a new way. We think we choose our success, but we don’t. We only choose our habits and our habits will determine our success.”

How to Deal with Malicious Behavior

From the Ask Tom mailbag:


I am a young store manager of two and a half years with no previous managerial experience. Through this time, I have problem employees doing things behind my back, against the rules. I never have enough information to reveal the responsible person or the only information I get is confidential. Mostly, I do not have the time to be involved all day with rule breaking when I am not in the store. What can I do differently to improve this situation?


It is difficult to understand the nature of the rule breaking, and I see three causes.

  • Malicious, destructive rule breaking, when your back is turned.
  • Lazy, non-compliant rule breaking, when the boss is not around.
  • Fun rule breaking, light hearted, poking fun at authority, when the boss is not around.

For your part, it probably doesn’t matter. If your boss was aware of the hijinks behavior, it would reflect poorly on you as the manager. This is tricky, and the solution is likely counter-intuitive. Your efforts could easily backfire and make the situation worse.

The team members know the rules. People don’t break the rules without knowing the rules. So, this is not a training issue. This is a mindset issue, which is a bigger problem.

Changing a mindset rarely comes from the outside. A Manager cannot dictate that a person change a mindset. Those of you with children can attest. It simply does not work.

The solution will require a multiple set of meetings. I would recommend twice a week, 10 minutes per meeting. So, pick a Monday and Thursday, or Tuesday and Friday, first thing in the morning. As the Leader, simply ask these questions and flipchart the responses from your team. Keep your thoughts to yourself. Post the flipcharts in the break room and leave them there.

  • Meeting 1: How are we doing, working together as a team?
  • Meeting 2: What impact do we, as a team, have on the customer?
  • Meeting 3: In what way can we, as a team, have a more positive impact on the customer?
  • Meeting 4: What impact does our individual behavior have on the behavior of our other team members?
  • Meeting 5: In what way can we, as a team, have a positive impact, helping each other create a more positive customer experience?

The purpose of these meetings is to:

  • Get the team talking about behavior, not the manager talking about behavior.
  • Re-focus the energy of the team from misbehavior to customer focus.
  • Get the team to create its own accountability for behavior, even when the Manager is not around.

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How to Change the Behavior

“Is Jason smarter than everyone else in the room?” I asked.

“On some things, yes,” Ruben replied. “But, that’s not the point. Even if he does know something the team doesn’t know, he doesn’t have to shove it in their face. He needs to share, so everyone on the team can get better. That’s what teamwork is all about.”

“What do you believe about Jason?”

“Well, he is smart, but I believe his behavior is counterproductive. He makes his teammates feel bad,” Ruben pushed back.

“If he is so smart, do you think he could be an effective teacher?”

“Not with that attitude,” Ruben raised his eyebrows.

“In what context could that attitude be different,” I wanted to know.

“What do you mean?”

“Ruben. Look. Behavior does not happen in a vacuum. It happens in a context. Change the context, change the behavior. Could you change the context?”
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How Does Culture Drive Behavior?

“He doesn’t fit the culture,” Ruben explained. “Jason’s okay, knows the technical side of the business, but he doesn’t fit the culture.”

“What do you mean, he doesn’t fit the culture?” I asked.

“He doesn’t fit the team,” Ruben replied. “Our teams work together, support each other, help each other. If someone asks Jason a question, he snaps the answer, he treats the other person like they are stupid. And, they just want to know the answer to the question.”

“What does Jason believe about the team?”

“What do you mean, believe about the team?” Ruben looked puzzled.

“You said this was a culture problem,” I nodded. “Culture is a set of beliefs that drive behavior, for better or worse. Ultimately, those behaviors are repeated and become an unwritten set of rules that guide the team in the way they work together. That’s culture. But, it all starts with what we believe, what you believe, as the manager, what Jason believes as a team member. If you want to change the behavior, you have to change the context. What we believe, what Jason believes, creates the context and drives his behavior. What does Jason believe about the team?”

Ruben looked up into his brain, “Jason believes he is smarter than anyone else on the team. Jason believes that he could do all the work better than anyone else on the team. Jason believes the other people on the team slow him down. When someone asks a question, it proves Jason is right, that he is the smartest person on the team and he wants everyone to know it.”
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Sibling Rivalry

“The biggest problem I have,” Andre complained, “is getting my people to work together. I want them to be like a family. I want them to feel like they belong to a tribe, you know, an extended family.”

“Oh, really,” I looked surprised. “It is a noble feeling to impart to a group of people, to get them to feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves. So, what seems to be the problem in getting them to work together?”

“There always seems to be petty bickering between the personalities. It’s not overt passive-aggressive behavior, but the conversations that end up in my office are petty transgressions. Someone borrowed a stapler and didn’t return it. Someone took a snack out of the company refrigerator. Someone had a bright idea that the group ignored or made fun of. Someone got passed over on a new project. Someone got passed over for a promotion.”

“So, what do you think the problem is?” I asked.

“I think it’s the culture of the group,” Andre nodded.

“And, who sets the culture?” I prompted.

“Ultimately, I set the culture,” he thought out loud. “Funny, I want the group to feel like a family, an extended family, but I end up with sibling rivalry.”

What Drives Behavior?

“So, what am I to do?” Max challenged. “I have to give them a bonus. The work is routine, in some cases, monotonous. I mean, I know, at my level, it is easier to get satisfaction from my work, not total satisfaction, but there are times when I actually enjoy work. I get a sense of accomplishment. But, my team? I can only imagine they come to work for the money. If it weren’t for the money, they would find something else to do. The only way I can get their attention is with a results-based financial incentive.”

“Tell me more,” I prompted.

“Well, it is pretty apparent. All you have to do is watch what happens. I give my team a bonus for hitting a certain production number and it is amazing how accurately they hit that number.”

“So, tell me, their base salary? What is that for?” I wanted to know.

“Base salary is just so they will show up. If I want them to hit a goal, I have to sweeten the pot. Give them a little kicker. It is just the way it is,” Max insisted.

“I want to understand. As the manager, you create the system, the environment in which people work. The culture you have created is that, for their base salary, your team just has to show up, they don’t really have to do anything special. They can survive on your team by doing less than their best. And that if you, as the manager, truly need anything specific done, a target, a goal, the only way you can motivate them is with a spiff?”

Max nodded. “That’s pretty much it.”

“So, you hold back a little money, and if, and only if, they meet the goal, they get a bonus?”

“Well, yes, that’s the way it’s supposed to work. But, of course, now everyone expects the bonus, kind of like they are entitled to it. So, sometimes, I have to strongly remind them that the bonus is at risk. That’s what we talk about at the team meeting. If we don’t hit the goal, the team doesn’t get its bonus.”

“So, the bonus doesn’t truly drive behavior. You have to remind them that the bonus drives behavior?”

Intentions and Behavior

“I don’t understand,” Sheri shook her head. “The team said they were committed to this project. They understood everything I presented at the meeting. They didn’t have any questions. I did not sense any push-back.”

“And what happened?” I asked.

“Nothing. We discussed changes they were going to make in the work process. We talked about organizing things differently. But nothing happened,” she reported.

“So, what did you learn, as a manager of this team?”

Sheri paused for a short time. Processing. “If someone says they want to get better at something, understand that their words are only intentions. Watch how they practice. Listen to the words that people say, but watch what they do. It’s the behavior that makes the difference.”
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Looking for Evidence of Potential in a Candidate

“So, it’s important not to HOPE someone has potential to step into a new role. You insist, that if a person has potential, there should be evidence of potential,” Monica refocused our conversation on her own role, as a manager, in the hiring process.

“If you know what to look for,” I replied.

“What do you look for? If someone has potential to move up to the next level of work, what evidence would I look for?”

“Look for behaviors. How would a team member, who has potential, behave?”

Monica stared in the space of the room. She looked up, then nodded. “Okay, if a person has potential to move up to the next level of work, their current work must be under control. Their current work must be complete, on time and meet the quality standard for that task.”


“And they must be curious. If a person has potential, they will ask questions about the next level of work. They will want to know not just how things are done, but why they get done, how tasks fit together, how work is handed off. If a person has potential, when they are confronted with a problem, they will be able to clearly state the problem, the cause of the problem and provide more than one alternate solution.”

“What else?” I prompted.

“A person, who has potential, will try something new, and if they fail, they will make an adjustment and try again, and if they fail again, they will adjust and try again. And they will get faster at failing and better at adjusting until they successfully complete the project.”

“Okay, stop. You have identified several behaviors that you would look for. Now, think. In what situations might we see those behaviors? What questions can we ask to find out if those behaviors exist? Here is a hint. Tell me about a time when…”
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