How to Change Bad Norms or Behaviors of your Team?

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Anneke Zwart
Student (University), Netherlands

How to Change Bad Norms or Behaviors of your Team?

I read an interesting article about changing bad norms or behavior. Suppose you're appointed as a new manager of a team that isn’t working hard enough or that is otherwise behaving in an objectionable, reprehensible way. Grenny (2017) provides some suggestions and/or steps to change bad behaviors/norms of your team effectively and with minimal resistance:
  1. FEEDBACK: First you should obtain feedback from a number of key figures in the organization to ensure that your concerns about the bad norms in your department are truly valid and do conflict with the organization’s policies. Your concerns should not be just a matter of your own subjective personal view on appropriate norms and values.
  2. ESTABLISH SUPPORT: Then you should investigate to what extent the bad norms are accepted throughout the team/organization. If, for example, people above you are supporting the bad behaviors, it will be difficult to change the behaviors. In that case it is necessary to first create active consent or even common cause among your boss and peers. Only with an adequate degree of support it is possible to take further steps.
  3. PUBLIC DIALOGUE: The third step is starting the conversation about the problems openly and publicly. Acknowledge your own vulnerability to negative norms while at the same time maintaining your ethical stand. Provide room for feedback and try to balance referring to those above and besides you, and making your own argument.
  4. FUTURE: Emphasize the fact that the past is the past and the future has to be the main focus.
  5. CONSENT VERSUS DISAGREEMENT: Of course, there will be people who comply with your arguments and principles, and people who don’t. Praise those who comply. But the probability that you will be tested — and the principles that were set could be violated — is high. As Grenny points out correctly: Human beings are social learners… They discern social norms mostly by watching what happens to others when they conform to or violate them. In those cases, confront the violator and impose fair sanctions calmly and decisively. Always emphsize that those sanctions aren’t personal, but rather about the principles that have been set.
  6. COMMUNICATE THE NEW PRINCIPLES: the last step is communicating the new norms and expected behavior. Involve your associates, because changing the norms will occur at the pace with which the associates will start to tell others about the new norms.
In my opinion, above steps can be a useful guide towards changing bad behaviors or norms without causing conflicts within your team and with yourself.

⇒ What do you think about aforementioned suggestions to bring about such changes?

Source: Grenny, J. (2017) “What to Do when you Inherit a Team that isn’t Working Hard Enough?” HBR June

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