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Read time13 mins

Clarifying Acceptable Workplace Behaviours

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How to create effective workplace behaviour standards

Failure of mission vision value statements

How do you make clear what your organisation considers to be acceptable standards of behaviour? It’s important to get this right because an unambiguous definition of acceptable behaviours creates a more positive environment, but it also means that you don’t have a decline in standards.

Historically a popular method has been to create a mission and values statement. However, we suggest an alternative approach using a group-based behaviour protocol.

Read on to learn more about group generated behaviour protocols.

How to create effective workplace behaviour standards

Watch the video to understand why mission, vision and values statements fail, and how you can create a specific set of ideal behaviours that everyone agrees on and can work towards to create a healthy workplace.

Watch the next video in this series here:

Part 10 – What to do when an employee behaves badly

And watch the previous video here:

Part 8 – Pre-Employment Testing to Avoid Toxic Hires

And if you know of anyone who would benefit from this video, please share it with them.

Video Transcript

Hi, Andrew from SACS and welcome to video number nine in our 11 video sequence on toxic behaviours at work.

So this video is about clarifying acceptable behaviours and you’ll notice that we’ve got the subtitle, the failure of mission vision value statements.

Mission vision value statements can be shown not to have much effect on positive or negative behaviour, and I’ll explain exactly why, but I’m going to suggest an alternative and the alternative is a thing called a group based behaviour protocol, a group generated behaviour protocol.

And basically that’s a process of where you draw behaviours out of a group and you make those behaviours very explicit, but I’ll explain exactly what I mean as we work our way through the slides.

Key findings

So here are some key findings about toxic behaviour (refer to video).

Minor toxic behaviours, like incivility where people are being impolite to people, but not nastily so, perhaps.

If people are prepared to tolerate that in leadership in an organisation or in a group, what you’ll tend to find is that that sets the bar at a new low, you’ll end up with more negative behaviours.

So negative behaviours tend to kind of accumulate and build, almost as though the slipping of standards allows further slipping of standards.

But in addition to that, we also know that more negative behaviours lead to less positive behaviours.

So if you tolerate negative behaviours in a workplace, such as people being rude to each other, or perhaps ignoring or snubbing other people.

What you’ll also get less of is the positive behaviours, and the positive behaviours are things like people volunteering to help, things like people doing more than is necessary to keep their jobs.

So you’re really looking for a situation where the behaviours are clear because that creates a more positive environment, but it also means that you don’t have this decline in standards within your workroom.

Mission, vision and values are vague

Let’s talk about mission, vision, values, and we know that they tend to have very little demonstrable effect and there are a couple of reasons for this.

One of them is that mission vision value statements tend to be rather vague.

So I had a look at the various organisations in Australia and New Zealand and I looked at the top 200 companies, and I found that about 60% of them stood for a thing called integrity.

Now, what does that mean if you say to somebody, “act with integrity?” well, how do they know what you want them to do? It’s too vague.

The biggest impact of an employee is from their job, team and leader.

What that means is that if in a local environment, we have a clear statement about what we stand for in our team, that is much more likely to have a powerful effect.

Now, I know for instance that many chief executives and chairs of organisations love to have behavioural statements, which are organisation wide.

Well, there’s no particular reason not to, I don’t suppose, except that they don’t particularly work very well.

People don’t think of their organisation in a very practical sense most of the time, on a day to day basis, they live in their team and their job, their team and their immediate leader.

That creates about 80% of their wellbeing.

So research evidence suggests that if you have behaviour statements, team by team, that’s way more likely to cause positive behaviours than to have some big organisational statement.

It’s distal from me, it’s not close to me in the way that it would be if it was created from my own team.

And it’s also, they distal from the person in terms of time and identity.

So quite often, MVVs were created some time ago, we don’t really know who created them.

Yes, they’re nice words, but do they actually change things? And the research evidence is that they really don’t so much.

And also if you’ve got an MVV and you are wanting somebody to change their behaviours, how do you really use that? If we are talking about just to go back to the example of integrity, but what about teamwork?

So we want you to embrace teamwork. Well, what does that mean?

So we know that human beings need more specific guidance to be able to respond to those kinds of things.

And this is this well known article from Desmidt and Prinzie and Decramer about the findings on MVV statements and whether they change anything, and the answer is largely known.

Group-generated behaviour protocol

So the alternative is a thing called the group generated behaviour protocol.

So these have a number of characteristics, they tend to be focused on observable behaviours, like for instance, we turn up to our meetings on time. We answer the phone in three rings, whatever.

But making these things much more specific tends to make them observable. And if you want to coach or guide somebody on the basis of these, it works far better.

They define above the line behaviour.

So there’s the behaviours that we want to see.

But sometimes also when we’ve worked with groups that have had lots of negative behaviours, we define the below the line behaviours as well.

So the above the line behaviours might be something like, if I make a decision that affects colleague, I will consult that colleague, that’s an above the line behaviour.

A below the line behaviour is that we discuss things openly, we don’t talk behind people’s backs. So that might be a below the line behaviour. Sometimes having both clear can be helpful.

Most of the time, the above line behaviours alone will do the job, but sometimes, if there has been a history of negative behaviours, having both can be helpful.

When you undertake an exercise like this, you also find that you tend to identify just 10 or 12 behaviours, maybe eight, maybe nine, something like that, but the point is that that makes it far more memorable.

You know, if you’ve got these vague statements, that’s one option, but if you’ve got a relatively digestible number of very specific behaviour statements, that can be really powerful to change people’s behaviour.

And I think the thing that can be difficult for people when they think about these behaviour protocols is that they really should be different from team to team.

I know that people love the idea of having an MVV, which is organisation wide.

But let me ask you this, do you really want your accountants to behave in exactly the same way as your customer service people? I think the answer is no.

I mean, accountants, the optimum behaviours for accountants are things like diligence, focus, concentrating hard, getting all this stuff right, whereas the customer service people, you want them to be friendly, approachable, they should have different behaviours.

And in fact, when people have asked us at SACS to create mission vision value statements, what we’ve sometimes been able to do is to get the client to morph their thinking into an idea of creating a whole bunch of behaviour statements across the organisation, and then distilling the common behaviours.

And in effect, you can call those your mission vision value if you want.

But I mean, the big effect is not from the organisational thing, it’s from the team by team thing, particularly where leaders are trained to use that as a way of rewarding people, as a way of redirecting negative behaviours, because the research evidence is that that does work.

Making local behaviour statements which the staff own means that they’re far more engaged with those.

How to create group protocols

And so then there’s a question of, how do you do this? Well, firstly, you get a group of employees together, which might be an entire team, certainly let’s say 20 people or 50 or a 100 or whatever, I mean, I’ve done it with up to 300 people at one time. And what you do is you ask each individual to privately write five words or phrases to describe the ideal version of the team.

So that might be, they might say it’s friendly and it’s helpful and we’re successful or whatever.

Those five words and phrases is a good way of forming a destination.

Then you ask them to discuss the words and phrases with colleagues in small groups.

And you ask everybody to voice out their words and phrases and write them on a whiteboard.

And you distil up to seven themes, which define the ideal team.

Once you’ve got these words and phrases, so you can imagine sitting there and you’ve got 20 people in a room and you’ve got six words and phrases that have been distilled into themes, we want to be successful, we want to be friendly, we want to be flexible, whatever, then you ask people to rate how close they think they are to that ideal right now.

Now the destination is really helpful because in change management, we know that it’s far better to move towards something than away from something.

So a clear destination, we want to be this type of team can of itself draw people towards that ultimate outcome.

And that can be a really powerful means of change management.

But also getting people to rate how close they think we are as a team right now to that destination, that can be really powerful as well.

So typically you might use a rating scale between zero and 10.

10 means we’re perfect, nothing needs to change., zero means we’re as bad as we could possibly be and everything needs to change, and five is somewhere in the middle, neither particularly good, nor particularly bad.

Now, if you do this and you get each of those 20 people to write down a number and you average the number. If the number’s less than about six or seven, then you know that there’s quite a bit of change that needs to take place.

And quite often when I’ve done this in the past, you’ll have scores of two and three, which means that the group is a long way from where it ideally needs to be.

That number is useful because it helps people to understand without having to go into some forensic exercise.

Well, how close are we to ideal? Then what I also like to do is to get people to say, where do you want to be in a year’s time? So you’re a three on average now, where do you want to be in a year’s time? And let’s say they want to move to a seven in a year’s time.

Three to seven tells the group, we need to make some changes.

And the best way of making those changes can be to agree the behaviours that we are going to live out.

Identify ideal behaviours

And that’s the next stage of this group based behaviour protocol exercise.

Split the group into teams of three to 10, depending on the size of the group, ask them to identify the behaviours, which would get the group to the ideal identified earlier.

And so you can imagine all of these groups, you’ve got 20 people and you’ve got groups of three or four.

So let’s say you’ve got five groups of four and they all write down their behaviours.

Get people to stick up all of these behaviours on the wall and you get people to vote for them.

And when people have had a chance to vote for them, the ones that get the highest number of votes, they are the core behaviours that we will commit to as a group.

So you can imagine in a relatively short period of time, let’s say an hour or two, you’ve taken the group from ambiguity about what behaviours are desirable to a point where they’ve identified the ideal version of their team and behaviours which they think will get them to that ideal version.

You’ll typically end up with between eight and 12 behaviours, maybe a little more, or maybe a little less, but ultimately what you’ll end up with is some really clear behaviours which have been voted up by people.

Now the power of this is that they’ve created these behaviours so they haven’t been imposed on them. And therefore they’re much more likely to be engaged with them.

Secondly, it’s entirely proximal to them because it’s being created by their team, these are behaviours which they see as being relevant.

And then it’s the leader’s responsibility to use those behaviours, to redirect people if they are behaving in a way contrary to these positive behaviours, and is also to up to the leader to recommend or to recognise people who are behaving in a positive way.

So every so often, pull out this statement and you might even use it for instance to evaluate the quality of a meeting from time to time.

Well, here are our behaviours that we committed to, did we leave out these behaviours in the meeting? You do need to keep them alive to make sure that they work.

But the essence of it is that this approach is vastly more successful than things like mission, vision values, it’s local, it’s self-generated, it’s engaging. And so people are much more likely to live those out.

Now, the other advantage of this over MVV, MVV as you know if you haven’t done it, it’s a big exercise, it’s a corporate exercise.

You can review your behaviours as a team once every three months, if you want.

I mean, it’s only an hour or something to do this.

And so you can make sure that they are up to date and as the team’s nature changes, maybe the nature of work that they’re doing changes, you can update the behaviours so that they are as current as possible.

So there are some ideas about how to create clarity for people in terms of the behaviours that you want to see.

And a much more powerful alternative to the traditional mission, vision values approach.

Join us for the next video where we’ll be talking about how to respond when people do begin to behave toxically.

Join us to find out some really practical techniques to keep the workplace as positive as possible.

Watch the next video in this series to find out more about dealing with toxic employees:

Part 10 – What to do when an employee behaves badly

And watch the previous video here:

Part 8 – Pre-Employment Testing to Avoid Toxic Hires

And if you’d like some help screening future hires for toxic behaviour, contact us about our Psychometric Assessment Tools.

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