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Opinion: 7 ways to influence employee behavior

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As organizations attempt to maintain or change their culture, employee work habits usually must change, too.

Not all work behaviors need an overhaul, of course. Most employees will benefit just fine from a few fresh insights, custom training, or adjustments to their work priorities.

Good managers know how important it is to guide and encourage employees today to be customer-centric, take sufficient accountability for results, and be adaptable. Employees normally want to cooperate with management in these areas, and yet they need to feel sufficiently informed and valued for them to make the necessary behavior changes, especially if the changes don’t offer perceptible, tangible employee benefits.  

Here are seven smart ways managers can influence employee behavior in 2020. 

1. Highly value each individual’s role or contribution. No matter how inconsequential it seems to the bigger picture, emphasizing how someone’s role contributes to the organization’s overall success is an effective morale builder because it increases connectedness and the sense of belonging. 

2. Make expectations crystal clear. A few years ago two managers in the same company saw different results from the same production crew. The manager with clearer, higher standards who consistently reinforced it with his team earned more respect and received better performance from his people than the manager without. Making certain that employees know your organization’s values as well as your expectations in fulfilling those standards or values helps establish a foundation for continuous improvement.

3. Deal decisively with poor performers. Being too tolerant of poor performers kills the motivation and drive of others. One business owner I advised struggled to handle a performance issue with an employee. He agreed that the problem would not disappear by itself; unfortunately, however, he waited until it negatively impacted the morale of other key employees before taking action. When you see an undesirable behavior pattern, don’t ignore it; rather, find out what’s going on and take decisive action.

4. Reward and affirm employees proactively. Smart managers don’t wait until a good employee is about to leave before they offer a raise, nor do they wait until an employee’s efforts are perfect before they recognize them. People respond positively to a manager who gives well-deserved praise and rewards or who expresses sincere appreciation proactively. Affirmation reinforces the belief that your employee’s efforts were noticed and valued

5. Get involved in the success and well being of each person. People need to know that you want them to succeed. They also want you to take an active role in checking in on their progress and have a desire to do whatever you can to help them reach their goals. 

6. Don’t leap to conclusions. On the surface, an employee’s performance or behavior may create real stress for a manager. One executive client of mine unwisely made negative assumptions about his team’s cooperation and motivations. Now, several years later, although the company maintains a generally positive work environment, beneath the surface there is a hotbed of discontent among managers who still won’t take the initiative or risk to make changes without getting the CEO’s go-ahead first. Before making assumptions, have open, honest dialogue and learn why someone did or didn’t take a particular action. 

7. Raise the bar for everyone, including yourself. The best leaders raise the bar for people, beginning with themselves. Inspiring employees to reach aggressive goals occurs when you raise expectations and create a sense of urgency, as well as provide the essential resources, accountability and the training to achieve them. Still, those actions won’t produce what they could as fast as they could – unless leaders and managers are consistently involved and hold themselves accountable to the same changes expected from everyone.  

Heading into 2020 with ambitious plans can be exciting. Smart managers will turn organizational plans and goals into reality by positively influencing employee behavior. 

Consultant, professional speaker and author Mark Holmes is president of Consultant Board Inc. and He can be reached at


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