Good Behavior by Decree?

August 12, 2008

How A Simple Contract Can Motivate Employees to Create a Kinder, Gentler (More Prosperous) Workplace

Consider the things your employees do that you wish they wouldn’t. Allison, for instance, chews gum—loudly—when she’s on the phone with customers. Calvin consistently forgets to turn off his cell phone at critical times. (Last week it burst into a rousing chorus of “It’s a Small World” during an important meeting) These are not bad employees, but they do have bad habits that irritate customers and coworkers alike.

If you assume there’s nothing you can do about such all-too-human flaws and foibles, think again. You can legislate good behavior—and what’s more, the vast majority of employees will be glad you did.

Don’t assume people will feel that you’re infringing on their rights when you create a set of behavioral rules. Most of them are as irritated by the offenders as you and your customers are. Besides, most people appreciate ‘official guidelines’—it eliminates their own confusion as well as that of their coworkers.

You might assume that, say, knocking before entering someone’s office is a “common sense” behavior. But it’s not always. Common sense is a subjective concept, depending in part on an individual’s background. Still, it’s very important that every employee display behavior that’s consistent with company standards and aligned with desired outcomes.

Obviously, you want employees to leave a positive impression on customers. And it’s also important for morale to have everyone behaving in appropriate ways. Employees who frequently behave in ways that their coworkers deem inappropriate are certainly not contributing to a happy, unified, productive team. And here’s the real bottom line: if you don’t spell out which behaviors are acceptable and which are not, you can’t hold people accountable for them.

The solution is simple and amazingly effective…develop a “Standards of Behavior” contract and have everyone, from CEO to receptionist, sign it. This document can address any and all aspects of behavior at work: from interaction with clients to phone etiquette to “good manners” (knocking on doors) to “positive attitude” markers (smiling or saying thank you).

Often, just knowing that a Standards of Behavior document exists creates an extra boost of awareness that really does affect day-to-day behavior. It creates the same behavior expectations for the entire team. Best of all, it functions as a tidal pull on problem employees, bringing them up to a higher level of performance.

You may worry that enforcing Standards of Behavior will create a company of robots—a company in which human differences are discouraged in favor of mindless conformity. It won’t! An office unified by agreed-upon standards is a far more pleasant place to work. Plus, individual responsibility flourishes, because it’s clear what everyone’s responsibilities are. That contributes to an environment of fairness, cleanliness, and good manners—and happy customers who keep coming back for more.”

Yours in service,



6 Responses to “Good Behavior by Decree?”

  1. Kristen Carroll Says:

    Hi Quint,

    Do you advocate for a certain response, such as disciplinary actions, if employees do not follow the signed standards of behavior?


  2. I think the organization needs to agree upon a standard of behavior guideline and then allow departments to create specifics based on the standards. For example, how the Nursing staff implements those standards may look very different than how the IT Department implements them. One works on the floors with direct patient interaction (and public view), the other works in cubicles usually with little interaction with patients or public.

    There are many situations where the behavior standards would be exactly the same across the board. For example, knocking before entering applies the same for Nursing as it does for IT. Other things though, like key words, are very different in these departments.

    I believe the standard needs to be both rigid and flexible. Rigid in that these are the basic essentials we expect for everyone. Flexible in that each department may customize them differently. Again, some things will be the same across all departments; some will be unique.

    Where I see the real problem, and think most people need help… is in implementing these standards in an organization where there have been no hard and fast rules previously. The change management is the difficult part. How do you enforce these things?

    Thanks Quint!

  3. Pam Godfrey Says:

    We have been using behavioral standards for approximately 3 years. For those employees who love living by the rules it has provided a measure of security and consistency to the work environment. For those who like to bend the rules, it give me as a manager, a workable tool that is objective to guide them back into compliance. Employees feel that I am fair because the standards apply to everyone. It is also great to link the behavioral standards to the service excellence “must haves” and the mission, vision, and values statement of our organization. I give every person who considers employment with us a copy at the interview telling them to read through them and make sure that their career goals and values can “marry” ours. The type of people I want to hire really appreciate this and get very enthusiastic about becoming part of our organization.

  4. Quint,

    Thanks for the practical and timely words of advice. I was just preparing to hold an organizational meeting with my team that had recently added some new members. I was struggling with finding a way to move the new team in a positive direction toward continuous improvement. Creating standards of behavior was just the task to help them turn in a new direction. Thanks!

    Scott Thompson

  5. Nancy Gomez Says:

    I work as a manager in a large organization. I will make the suggestion that we develop Standards of Behavior for the hospital. Meanwhile, I am interested in developing Standards of Behavior for our unit specifically. How would I handle an employee who might refuse to sign the Standards in this situation?


  6. sandrar Says:

    Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.

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