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Does bad behavior exist in your company?  It would be a rare business owner who would answer “no” to that question.

What is the impact on your business?  How does it affect the other employees?  What about relationships with customers or vendors?  The common answers are “negatively” or “badly”.

Next question.  What are you doing about it?  Maybe not acting quickly enough.  “Yes” is the most common answer.  Perhaps this is why bad behavior continues to exist in your life.

McKinsey Quarterly recently provided a book excerpt from authors Huggy Rao and Robert I. Sutton, professors at Stanford University.  Their book, Scaling Up Excellence:  Getting to More without Settling for Less, focuses on uncovering what it takes to build exemplary performance as a company gets bigger.

Their argument in this excerpt is that if you want to create a culture of excellence you need to eliminate the negative behavior first, and then work on emphasizing good behavior.  Their “researchers discovered that negative interactions with bosses and coworkers had five times more impact on employees’ moods than positive interactions”.  So bad behavior trumps good behavior every time.  Any efforts by you to instill good behavior in your company will be futile if you continue to allow bad behavior to exist.

How do you get rid of bad behavior?  The authors suggest seven methods

1) Nip it in the bud – “You stand for what you tolerate” is a quote I often use from a speaker to my Vistage CEO private advisory boards.  Your employees are very observant.  If you allow certain behavior by one employee then everyone assumes that behavior is acceptable.  Deal with bad behavior quickly.

2) Plumbing before poetry – By this they mean to get your people to focus on “small, mundane, and gritty details”.  They cite what happened at Alameda Health Systems in Oakland, California.  They were losing $1 million a month and working conditions were bad.  The new CEO decided to fix one thing at a time rather than talk big picture.  He divided the company into teams and had them “find” $21 million in the form of cost cutting and increasing revenues, which they did.  By working together morale improved and allowed them to then focus on broader topics like company culture and core values.

3) Adequacy before excellence – Perfect the basics.  The article cited a survey of 100 companies, the majority of which said their main customer service strategy was to exceed customer expectations.  When 75,000 customers were surveyed they responded differently.  They indicated what drives them away was bad service.  The same survey indicated that 25% of customers are likely to say something nice about a good customer service experience while 65% will probably say something bad about a negative one.

4) Use the “cool kids’ (and adults) to define and squelch bad behavior – The authors suggest choosing some of your high performing and most admired employees to set an example.  Talk to them about some of the bad behavior you are noticing and encourage them to model the good behavior.  Also challenge them to urge their fellow employees to do the same.

5) Kill the thrill – Some employees enjoy “getting away with it”, that there is a thrill to behaving badly.  An example they use involved a Canadian sawmill where employees were stealing equipment.  There seemed to be a contest going on of who could steal the most.  Ironically, nobody was profiting from the activity by selling the equipment.  So the company changed its policy and said if anyone wanted to borrow any equipment for personal use they could.  Now the thrill was gone and the theft rate virtually disappeared.

6) Try time shifting:  From current to future selves – By time shifting the authors mean pointing out to the people behaving badly how their current behavior has long term consequences.  These consequences could impact the company’s results and even impact the employees’ ability to remain employed.

7) Focus on the best times, the worst times and the end – The research cited by Rao and Sutton here was done by Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman who discovered “the peak-end rule:  no matter how good or bad an experience is or how long it lasts, judgments about it are shaped most strongly by the best and worst moments and by how it ended.”  The lesson here is to make sure your worst moments end as positively as possible.

Identify the bad behavior in your company and deal with it quickly.

Consider Reading This

Scaling Up Excellence: Getting to More Without Settling for Less by Huggy Rao and Robert I. Sutton.  Using case studies and real world examples the authors identify how an organization can scale up faster and more effectively.  They share what might be hindering a company’s ability to grow at a faster rate.  And they show how to eliminate destructive beliefs and behaviors that will hold back growth.