Dear Dan: I'm old-school when it comes to manners, and some of the behavior I see from my employees is disappointing. They are otherwise good workers, but is there a way to create my own standards? - Old School Manners
Dear Old School: There's much to be said for harmony in the workplace. When employees get along - with customers and clients as well as each other - your business prospers. But people often do little things that you wish they wouldn't, such as rough language, poor cell phone etiquette or over-the-top political arguments. Many business owners are reluctant to try and control such behavior when employee performance is otherwise good.
But if you assume there's nothing you can do, think again, says Quint Studer, author of Wall Street Journal bestseller Results That Last: Hardwiring Behaviors That Will Take Your Company to the Top (Wiley). You can legislate good behavior-and what's more, most 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," says Studer, founder of the Studer Group, a business consulting firm. "Most of them are as irritated by the offenders as you and your customers are. Besides, most people appreciate having official guidelines - it eliminates their own confusion. If you don't spell out which behaviors are acceptable and which are not, you can't hold people accountable for them."
Studer suggests developing a "Standards of Behavior" contract and have everyone, from owner on down, sign it. This document can address all aspects of behavior at work, including:
- interaction with clients
- phone etiquette
- good workplace manners
- positive attitude markers such as smiling or saying thank you
A Behavior Standards Sample document is available free at www.studergroup.com (enter the title in the search box to find it). Studer offers these tips:
· Seek input from all employees. Put together a "Standards Team" to create a first draft. Just be sure that everyone has a chance to provide input before it's finalized. Do not merely write it yourself and impose it on everyone else. You need buy-in, and that requires wider participation.
· Be crystal clear. Don't write "Display a positive attitude." Do write "Smile, make eye contact, and greet customers by name." Don't worry about insulting people's intelligence. Sometimes people really don't know what appropriate behavior is and what isn't. For instance, if you don't want slang phrases used with customers, you need to identify them up front. For example, one business asks employees to avoidphrases like "Yeah," "Hold on," "Honey," and "See ya."
· Hold a ceremonial roll out. Once you've finalized your standards, hold an employee meeting to introduce the document and distribute pledges for everyone - including you -- to sign. Some businesses create activities to educate employees about the standards. Make it fun. But do have everyone sign a pledge; it's amazing how much more seriously people take rules when they've signed on the dotted line.
· Hold people accountable. Make sure everyone knows they'll be held accountable to your standards. How you hold them accountable is up to you. Sometimes a simple meeting in which you show an employee the signed pledge and point out an error is sufficient. Other times, you might need stronger measures.
· Create a "Standard of the Month." Every month, highlight a specific standard to help boost awareness. Say, for example, you decide to focus on your policy for dealing with disgruntled customers. First send a reminder e-mail detailing the policy. Next, you might ask employees to write up examples of how they've dealt with angry or dissatisfied customers. Some businesses recruit employees to act out both sides of a conflict. Not only is this fun and often hilarious, it helps people see both sides.
· Update your standards. Your standards may need periodic updating. Some directives may not work as intended and may need to be changed. You may also discover new standards that need to be added as your business grows and evolves.
· Have new applicants sign. Before you hire new employees, have them read and sign your Standards of Behavior. You may be able to eliminate candidates who visibly balk at conforming to your culture. But more importantly, when you do hire someone, there will be no doubt what you expect.
Just knowing that written standards exist is enough to keep most employees on their toes. It creates an extra boost of awareness that affects day-to-day behavior and helps pull problem employees up to a higher level.
"Don't worry that enforcing Standards of Behavior will create a company of robots," says Studer. "That's not true. A business unified by agreed-upon standards is a far more pleasant place to work. Individual responsibility flourishes because it's clear what everyone's responsibilities are. And that contributes to happy customers who keep coming back for more."