Leaders have the responsibility for creating a work environment that causes people to do their best every day. In theory this should be simple, since the overwhelming majority of employees are willing workers. Only an extremely small number o people take a job expecting to get paid for minimal effort.
Most people, by the act of taking a job, demonstrate that they want to do it well. WE find that many companies squander this goodwill through their leadership practices. Apparently, it is easier to lose discretionary effort than it is to build it.
If people are willing to perform at their best and they don't, where does the problem lie? Dr Edwards Deming, the noted quality guru, attributed well over 90 per cent of the problems of quality not to front-line employees, but to management. We certainly agree and we extend this to most other performance deficiencies as well. The same leadership practices that throw away the employee's goodwill also create the climate that suboptimizes organizational effectiveness.
Leaders create the culture, the place, and the conditions for employees and their work. This includes the physical conditions and the management process. The most effective leaders first look at those elements before looking to individuals or groups of employees for assigning blame or attempting a fix. Most failures of organizations are failure o the management process, not employees' behavior.
Although most organisations have some form of process management, few can specify their behavior management process. Indeed, supervisors and managers are often advised to find a management style that fits their personality and the situation. Because there are so many different personality types and possible situations in an organization, there will be many different solutions to the same problem. No effective, stable leadership process is possible with this number of uncontrolled management variables.
An effective management process causes employees to do the right things at the right time in the right way. To have an effective management process, it is critical that you have an understanding of the variables that affect performance. Getting and keeping followers occupied in meaningful activity is essential to a leader.
The Basics of Follower Behavior
Much of what is common knowledge about leadership is, in fact, fallacious. Ideas extracted from our experience or that of others may not actually identify the critical variables that made that approach work in that specific situation. WE are all taught, for instance, to lead by example and to communicate, communicate, communicate! This kind of advice peddles the banal as wisdom and ignores the essentials.
While the leader's actions and the visual images he or she paints with words are important, these are not the most powerful influences on behavior. Much more has been modeled and communicated than has been done. Simply put, the impact of your example and of your communications is get followers to do something once, perhaps twice. After that, they must see some personal benefit from their actions or the response to your example and your communications will diminish.
This relationship is clearly stated in the most basic expression of the causes of behavior presented below as the ABC Model.
This model shows that there are only two ways to change behavior: by what happens before a behavior ad what happens after it. An antecedent is simply anything that tells you what to do. It could be a memo, a meeting, company policy, this book, or a thousand things that we see, hear, touch, smell, or taste in a day. In most cases, the antecedent contains enough information for us to know exactly what to do. However, knowing what to do and doing it are two different things.
The telephone may ring, but because we are in a hurry, we ignore it; we may know a company policy and not follow it; we may know a safety rule but violate it every ay; we may know the speed limit and the consequences for speeding but exceed it every day. All of these things point to the fact that most problems that organizations face daily are not the result of not knowing what to do but are often treated by the organization as though they are. Most attempts to resolve performance issues involve emphasizing the importance of the actions, stressing the cost of failure, making our expectations clear, re-telling them, creating new policies and procedures, re-training employees, and simply nagging them to do the right things.
Is it possible to train people to do the safe thing or the quality thing and have them do what you trained them to do every time. Can you communicate priorities and have employees make decisions about their time accordingly? Can you delegate to others and know tat you will not have to worry about the cost, quality, timeliness, or appropriateness of their actions? Of course you can.
However, the determinant of whether these things will be done is not the clarity of communication and effectiveness of training, but what happens to employees when they do what has been communicated. If a person was trained to do something one way and when he applied it found that it didn't work, would he continue? If a person is given a priority assignment and then someone comes in with an emergency request, will the priority likely be put aside? If a person is delegated responsibility for a project and the boss second-guesses every action that the person takes, will the person soon defer all decisions to the boss? You know the answer to these types of questions.
Leaders who think that people will do their best because that's what is expected of them are prone to make errors by relying primarily on antecedents. This is especially pernicious because it leads to leadership beliefs and practices that produce suboptimal responses from the followers. You can best understand this when you consider the most important aspect of human behavior.
Behavior is a Function of Its Consequences
The closest thing we have to a behavioral law, as gravity is a physical law, is the behavior is a function of its consequences. Antecedents get their power from the consequences that are associated with them. The bottom line is that the effectiveness of most of what leaders do is determined by how they use behavioral consequences. WE believe if this simple statement was fully understood and put into practice that not a major organization exists that could not improve by 20-30 per cent per year (the government by more than 50 per cent).
This law means that every change must start with an analysis of what will happen to the performers if they do what we need and what will happened to them if they don't. While most leaders feel that consequences in an organization are in place for those who do or don't do what is required, the consequences that are typically used are often ineffective in either maintaining desirable action or in stopping undesirable action.
Unfortunately, not all consequences are created equal. Some are more effective than others. Most of the consequences that organizations use, such as compensation, performance appraisal, and reward and recognition practices are weak when it comes to getting behavior to occur every day. Despite the common belief that the bigger the reward, the more it impacts behavior, science tells u that the most effective con-sequences are those that are immediate and certain. The least effective are those that are delayed and uncertain.
Guess which category is the most common in the modern organization? Bonuses, profit sharing, promotions, and raises in pay are all positive, but they are future and uncertain consequences to the performers and as such they have little impact on behavior on a day-to-day basis. The size of the payoff only increase the pool of people who want to participate in the activity and has little to say about how well they will work once selected.
Things that save your followers time and effort are almost always positive, immediate, and certain. Problem solving requires a disciplined approach, for instance, because the reinforcers for most people come from soling the problem, not from analyzing the causes of the problem. Bypassing the analysis phase allows them to get into action sooner so that they experience immediate, positive consequences sooner and more often.
A common leadership issue is the execution of strategy. Every day, opportunities for positive, immediate, and certain consequences arise for less consequential behaviors which compete with the leader's strategy. If the leader's process for implementing his strategy doesn't have built-in positive, immediate, and certain consequences, then such consequences must be created to keep the implementation plan on schedule.
The leader must ensure that the followers are receiving PICs on a daily basis. If they are not built into the business processes (which they rarely are), the leader must find a way to overlay them onto the process. One of the ways leaders do this is by taking work out of the process. This is a common task where the leader runs interference for the follower and removes obstacles wherever possible rather than requiring the follower to surmount each obstacle unaided. In this way the leader reduces the umber of negative, immediate, and certain consequences experienced by the followers.
While important, removing an obstacle to performance does not guarantee that the desired performance will take place. A client of Aubrey Daniels International, a Midwest bank, discovered this truism after they spent millions of dollars removing certain types of paperwork from their branches. Their consultants had convinced them that the administrative burden was suppressing sales. To increase sales, paperwork was reduced by 90 per cent, yet sales didn't increase. They failed by not building in PICs for the new behaviors, a very common mistake. They built in bonuses, thinking that doing so would drive the correct behavior. Bonuses are positive, future, and uncertain consequences from the performers' perspective and are weak performance drivers.
You will avoid these kinds of failures if you examine in detail the behaviors you are asking for prior to implementing your plan. What happens to the individual when she does what you expect? We find the best answers to that question when we perform what we call a PIC/NIC analysisr, which is often very revealing when planning any organizational change.
Measure of a Leader by Aubrey C Daniels and James E Daniels
Copyright 2007 by Aubrey Daniels International Inc. Price: Rs 450. Reprinted by permission of Tata McGraw Hill Publishing Company Limited. All rights reserved.
Aubrey C Daniels is the author of bestselling management classic Bringing Out the Best in People. His management consulting firm, Aubrey Daniels International, works with business leaders around the world.
James E Daniels, vice president and senior consultant with Aubrey Daniels International, has developed productivity and quality improvement systems for corporations around the globe.