How to Change Bad Norms or Behaviors of your Team?

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Changing Organization Cultures > Best Practices > How to Change Bad Norms or Behaviors of your Team?

How to Change Bad Norms or Behaviors of your Team?
Anneke Zwart, Student (University), Netherlands, Moderator
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

Changing Bad Norms Requires Guidance, Leadership and Respect
Bernhard Keim, Business Consultant, Germany, Premium Member
Talking about proper behaviour is talking about MUTUAL RESPECT. The less you respect others, the less you will be respected by them. Schopenhauer once said: Good manners are like cushions absorbing the hard blows of life.
Bad norms demonstrate a lack of respect. There might be good reasons for such behaviour (erratic boss), but these are very rare. The problem with every norm is, that it is "the normal". People tend to assimilate to such norms and here it does not make a huge difference whether these norms are seen as good or bad.
Therefore: changing norms is challenging. But you can't expect what you don't respect. If you want it, live it.

Interest & Engagement
Kunal A Bhat, Consultant, India, Member
I have been there. Practically, what worked for me was some introspection:
1. GOAL - What was my goal - to change behaviors or to improve productivity? Here, I prioritized productivity.
2. APPROACH & OBJECTIVE: how could I influence them to become more productive? I know by experience that people become more cooperative when they see positive personal results. Thus, I resorted to sharing positives regularly at the team level. This included rewarding someone through other members' consent.
3. VISION AND ENGAGEMENT: Set a vision and get them engaged: with a better and more positive environment (than before), I shared my project's vision and engaged them in improving it.
Though it took a while to get things on track, we managed to get the desired results.

Address the Heart of Issue First
srinivas, Lecturer, India, Member
To me any change initiative requires first to ADDRESS THE HEART OF THE ISSUE (read Values). If there's a conflict then it hinders change. For example at human development institutions, if colleagues are encouraging manipulation of data in one form or other, this would give rise to conflict.
2. Having the right value set in place, a debate or churn with regard to pros and cons may be the second stage.
3. To facilitate the implementation of values availability of right tools..
4. Finding a solution which satisfies all boundary condition..
5. Iterating on the solution to improve on the solution may be fifth stage.
6. Addressing the Power structure which hinders implementation of change..
7. Restoration of character of change to entire organization..
8. Employing the tactics to implement change may be 8th step.
9. Garnering the Will of self and management..
10. Having policies, procedures, practices in place is the tenth.

Apply a Sense-Making Approach to Change System Behavior
Gary Wong, Consultant, Canada, Premium Member
You can try conventional practices such as interviewing, setting goals and standards. Post principles on the wall. Add in reward and punishment measures. All are based on the idealistic paradigm of changing individual behaviour. Or you can do something different - don’t change the person but CHANGE THE RELATIONSHIPS AND INTERACTIONS BETWEEN INDIVIDUALS. This paradigm recognizes organizations are complex adaptive systems with diversity, emergence, feedback loops, self-organization properties.

The Sense-making Approach involves gathering stories to understand what’s happening. From the data discover the emerging behaviour patterns which provide hidden order to the system. To perturb the system, change a system constraint (e.g., procedure, rule, policy) and collect more stories to monitor how relationships and interactions respond. If desired behaviour emerges, accelerate the system constraint change. If unintentional negative consequences arise, dampen or abandon the constraint change.

A team or organization is dispositional, not predictable. That is, it has a tendency to head in a certain direction but can be influenced to go another way. Our aim is to “nudge” it towards a desired direction.

What to Do if Cultural Norms Conflict with Greatness
John Henry, Manager, United States, Member
@Bernhard Keim: Yes Bernard, I think you were spot on with the norms and respect issues. When we have encouraged bad behavior and an attitude of entitlement in our team. When we all have no consequences any longer. How then do you develop a team that relates to each other without the normative behavior of the culture? That is the real essence I think.
First, you have to share a mutual respect, a common goal, and a commitment to that goal.
Once the team realizes the value of working together, of achievement, of greatness of purpose, the normative bad behavior will cease, because the bigger payoff of achievement, or recognition will become manifest.

Analyze the Past to Change for the Future
Dr.Abu-Gieseisa, Consultant, Sudan, Member
We have to collect learned hard lessons when we found ourselves following bad habits. That's why our team needs to analyze the past performance of the team first if we want to avoid they keep behaving in the bad manner in the future.
So I agree with the 10 steps of changing team behavior from @srinivas using corrective actions.
Although the @Nudge Theory that recently won the Nobel prize also looks at how people make (bad) irrational choices.

Trainings and Demonstrations of Cultural Values to Educate in Proper Behavior
Raza Usmani, ICT Consultant, Pakistan, Member
Leadership also includes TRAININGS and development of employees through demonstration of ethical and cultural values. To correct someone for their bad behavior the HR must demonstrate the true professionalism toward employees well being.
Sometimes appreciating, rewarding and penalizing the behavior of employees across the organization also brings positive outcomes.

Treat your Employees with Respect to Get Rid of Behavioral Issues
Arif ur Rehman, Professor, Pakistan, Member
Whatever be the professional, corporate and social needs, an individual's behavior is reflected through the norms that are clearly visible in a particular cultural setting. We may talk of ethical and cultural values in a laboratory setting, but as long as they are not 'lived' in the environment, you will keep having behavioral issues.
Everyone expects RESPECT - regardless of his office - which takes into account his/her cares and concerns. Provide that and behavioral issues will be a thing of the past!

Assess your Team First Before you Accept Management Responsibility
Ivan Kohlinsky, Management Consultant, United Kingdom, Member
It might be your own fault… When you are asked to take over a team, BEFORE YOU DECIDE you should surely have some insight into its members and their abilities, motivations instead of just saying YES ma'am or sir and thinking that this will be a good career progression. Because it won't if it all goes badly and YOU are blamed.
So ask the person who chose the team members what talents/abilities/insights he/she saw in each member. Perhaps you are missing something and knowing each members character & talents might help a lot.
If it turns out to be just a 'job lot' of people assembled because they were awkward and problematic elsewhere then you need to say NO in a subtle or polite way to your senior management, or at least say that you wish to make changes to the team. There is an art to saying NO in an acceptable way. I don't draw any political comment or parallel here.

What Got Us Here in the First Place?
Vincent Miholic, Manager, United States, Member
Amen on "Live it" and paraphrased, "I knew what?... Before I took this job?" What got us to norms and behaviors?
That's usually an easy question to answer: Gallup purports 70% are poor managers (which parallels disengaged employees and close to the 50% who say they leave a job because of the boss).
So I'm the new manager replacing the old manager who participated in creating or maintaining the status quo of systematically sanctioned behaviors. Even worse, obviously, a few folks with "position" bandied about or are blind to/careless about apathy, mediocrity, entrenchment, cynicism, embodied in statements like, "we tried that" or "that's a non-starter" or similar anti-catalysts, worse, variables non-conducive to "feedback, dialogue, dissonance, and support," so there goes that theory.
Long odds (Editor:~unlikely) to change such situation if not accompanied by a tremendous amount of latitude and an environment which allows plenty of room for:
1) dispensing with incrimination,
2) welcoming experimentation,
3) inevitable restarts, and
4) somehow finding a way to value "good" behaviors.

Gold Brick Dirty Brick Approach to Change Bad Behavior
Jeff Washburn, Strategy Consultant, United States, Member
A manager cannot tell in advance what effect any particular action will have. In fact, "good" behavior may not produce desirable results, but they'll look "good."
One application of Coue's Law is what I call "Gold Brick Dirty Brick".
A dirty brick is thrown when you insult someone in one of a myriad of ways. For example, "I wish you guys would behave better." The team cannot help but take that brick and mentally put it next to the last one. Enough dirty bricks and you have built a wall between you and your supposed team.
Gold bricks are genuine complements. They break through dirty brick walls. However, you have to be among them for a great amount of time to find genuine complements, but the return on investment is high. You must walk and talk and talk the walking.
I once hired the company's lowest rated engineer. She was the highest rated one year later because of the gold brick dirty brick metaphor.

Map-out a Process Flow to Change Wrong Behavior
Salieu Bojang, Student (University), United States, Member
Since "how" is representative of a process, then it's correct to say Grenny's 6 Step approach makes sense as it follows a normal problem identification & solution process. Most interlocutors above also queried from a similar approach while interrogating mainly Herzberg's Two-factor Theory as the likely issue (if you read the responses up-close).

I agree in changing "wrong behaviors," one needs to "map-out a change process flow" so as to enable a systematic problem identification & solution approach that would make way for the motivators that needed to be motivated and the hygienes that needed to be met in order to overcome a "team's bad behaviors. Strategize, find-out, and then help-out.

Explain the Aim and Add an Element of Competition
Doaa Saayed, Student (University), Lebanon, Member
As a teacher and lab assistant the best way is to explain in details the aim of the work and its importance in addition to encouraging the team, in a challenging way, to give their best or to be in competition with other teams to achieve the aim.
Actually I tried this and fortunately it gave interesting results!

Dismantling Corruption in Public Administrations
Misbah Mokaddem, Management Consultant, Lebanon, Member
When corruption has become the NORM in a public organization, and when it has become VALUED and even considered as a ‘SMART BEHAVIOR’ then a change from within the administration itself is not sufficient. We have to go to upper level.
One case was successful: Implement a Radical Change.
- Decision has to be taken in a small committee at the highest level.
- Assessment of current practices and behaviors is done through an ‘on the ground’ long observatory and investigation mission. When informal decisions makers, communication agents and corruption facilitators are identified, fact based decisions can be taken.
- Strategy Based Business Reengineering based on Organization Mission stated by law, review of Vision and Values, Process review and Competencies and Correct Behavioral Identification.
- A hiring or transfer process is launched based on needed competencies and values.
- Implement the newly developed and approved system using Kotter’s 8 Steps Change Model.
Success is combined with an internal and external communication schema and changing the appearance of the organization (such as the corporate identity, layout of reception desk, sign on the building, etc.).

Are the Bad Behaviors of a Team Actually True?
Henry, Accountant, Jamaica, Member
My department is currently merging with another, we also have two bosses, one on the outside and the other is new. At first, the acting boss was engaging and everyone was involved. Then suddenly the acting boss said that she was streamlining communication in the department.
Previously there was an open door policy in the department and that was now changed. We would have to consult with her secretary before speaking with her.
Also we were locked out of the email system that was set up by us.
She was hardly in the office and she preferred communication via email.
In addition, we were told not to deal with any outside communication without her consent, which was understandable.
However, what came out of a meeting was that we were going behind her back doing things and in her own words, "she is in a position to cut our throats" and "we were snakes making her look bad" but "that is not her and she would not do that". Everyone was at the meeting and from that day no one trusts or communicates with her.

Changing Bad Norms in your Team
Naveed khalid, Accountant, Pakistan, Member
- On #2 (Establish Support): If we have collected feedback then we don't always need to establish support. If we were getting positive comments, support has already been gained automatically.
- On #3 (Public Dialogue): We don't necessarily have to talk publicly, we should first arrange a private meeting with the problematic subordinates after getting feedback from others and try to make them understand about the norms. Then if they don't respond positively we should try the further steps which are mentioned.

Establishing Support for Changing Behavior is Very Important
Annette Rattigan-Leo, Saint Lucia, Member
It is important to gain support from above when attempting to change behavior. It becomes such a challenge when those above accept the wrong behavior and causes it to become the norm.
So having a vision and communicating it for buy-in at that level is key. Otherwise efforts to change your team noms and behavior will die. A carefully thought out top-down approach can work well in this regard, as your team will recognize that those who they thought supported their behavior no longer do.

It Starts with a Changed Attitude
Bernhard Keim, Business Consultant, Germany, Premium Member
@John Henry: You mentioned it: It's about attitude that has to change first to make change happen. Attitude is very personal. It will be impossible to alter bad behaviour if you can't bring employees to senses. If they don't acknowledge the detrimental impact of their behaviour it will be hard change it.

First Accomplish Feedback and Support to Change Bad Team Behaviour
Philippe Barteau, Entrepreneur, France, Member
@Annette Rattigan-Leo: I agree in a tactical sense, getting Feedback (from your superiors and colleagues) and Support (from your team members) is key.
Quite a few people might forget these 2 preparation steps. Notice that if you omit those, you're likely to end up caught in the middle between your bad behaving team and superiors. And that is not a very comfortable position to be in as a manager….

The Behavior Has to 'Want to Change'
John Henry, Manager, United States, Member
So if someone has a paycheck, and is doing nothing significant but complaining, they have a personal victory, they get something for nothing. So to correct this, they need to understand that success is not a paycheck (which will be temporary with their current level of commitment to the project or position).
Rather success must come from the completion of the work at hand, and an improvement in the organization's future. We as employees are temporary. We must earn our pay everyday by providing value equal to or greater than the cost to the organization. If we do not provide that value, it does not matter how much potential we have.
So how does a manager get more value from the team than the cost of employing the team?
One: each must be correctly assessed for their skills, and
Two: each must be in a position to use their best skills, collectively in a team to be successful.
Apply this and you will be a great manager.

A New Paradigm: Behaviour Economics
Gary Wong, Consultant, Canada, Premium Member
@Dr.Abu-Gieseisa: The emerging practice of Behaviour Economics aka Nudging is based on complexity science.
A top-down approach typically does not nudge but yanks, shoves, or smacks by constraining the system.
Nudging respects individuals as diverse and autonomous thinkers who are capable of making choices. That’s why we don't try to change the individual, but the relationships and iterations between agents - people, events, ideas - in a team or, on a larger scale, a network of teams.

Kotter’s 2 Change Processes
Gary Wong, Consultant, Canada, Premium Member
@Misbah Mokaddem: Be aware that Kotter has 2 change processes.
- Kotter's Leading Change (1996) Process works in a traditional linear hierarchy driven by a small core group typically at the top.
- Kotter's Accelerate (2014) Change process recognizes the 1996 process won’t work for a team or organization facing VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity). Kotter's 2014 Accelerate process does and aligns with the concepts of Agile, Nudging, Social Networking, and Experimentation.
Because of this difference I suggest that the first step should be Situational Awareness - what is the work environment your team is facing? Might uncontrollable VUCA be causing some of the good and bad norms the team is using as a means of survival? If so, implementing a Kotter 1996 linear change intervention could makes things worse.

Nudge Theory Summary
Dr.Abu-Gieseisa, Consultant, Sudan, Member
Nudge theory (aka nudge) is a concept in behavioural science, political theory and economics that aims to influence the motives, incentives and decision making of groups and individuals through positive reinforcement and indirect suggestions, trying to achieve non-forced compliance. The claim is that nudges are at least as effective, if not more effective, than direct instruction, legislation, or enforcement.
A nudge is a method to influence the behavior of people in a predictable manner, without having to resort to prohibitions and commandments or to change economic incentives. A frequently cited example of a nudge is applying an image of a housefly into the men's room urinals at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport to "improve the aim".
Nudge theory mounted initially established on "behavioral economics" and discussed the interface among society and the economic system including social security, investing, and health care.
But nowadays nudge theory is adaptable and applicable widely beyond behavioral economics to all aspects of engaging with individuals, for instance: parenting, teaching, managing, marketing, provision of services, leading and overruling.

Examples of Nudging (Behavioural Ethics)
Gary Wong, Consultant, Canada, Premium Member
@Dr.Abu-Gieseisa: You can find some good examples in a study in the American Business Law Journal entitled Nudging Corporate Compliance.
Behavioural ethics nudging is the use of choice architecture specifically aimed at making employees more ethical. Or, in the case of this topic, using nudging to change bad behaviour or norms on a team.

Organisational Change
Omondi, Manager, Kenya, Member
Change is driven by power and influence to align people to a cause (good or bad).
Organizations are political systems with networks controlled by power (bestowed through both formal and informal structures). This power is played or shown by different people at different levels in the hierarchy. Identifying these people, their powers and influences and using their networks to drive changes is key to successful change management
The methods applied will vary from situation to situation, but objectivity and focus must be maintained through out the journey. Change is a journey with many obstacles which must be tackled in different ways without losing the overall focus.
Organizations are cultural entities. Without understanding its present culture and how it came about it may be difficult to just change it into a new culture.
Habits that are entrenched in this culture can be changed through the political networks and powers described earlier.

Nudge Theory Summary
Gary Wong, Consultant, Canada, Premium Member
In 2008 Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein co-authored the ground-breaking book Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness.

Nudge theory falls under the emerging field of Behavioural Economics. This field studies the effects of psychological, social, cognitive, and emotional factors on the economic decisions of individuals and institutions. Thaler discovered people are predictably irrational in ways that defy traditional economic theory.

Nudge theory states that, through subtle environmental changes and cues from behavioural psychology, decision-making can be influenced. A nudge influences a person’s decision without taking away the freedom and power to choose. It’s particularly useful when the benefits of acting aren’t obvious, aren’t immediate or don’t appear to be worth the effort. Ideally, nudges are non-judgmental and not perceived to be manipulative. Decision-makers are under no time pressures and choosing to do nothing is an option.

Nudge theory is growing in popularity. The change approach has been shown to be a well-founded belief. Many businesses and a number of national governments have utilized the findings of Nudge theory in their operations. For his contributions Professor Thaler was awarded the 2017 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.

The psysci infographic below describes 10 examples around the world where nudging has yielded amazing results.

Changing Bad Behaviors of your Team: Dig Deep and Find 'Hot Buttons'
Ivan Kohlinsky, Management Consultant, United Kingdom, Member
I am afraid that in the recent environment the only way may be to 'dig deep' and fully understand what motivates them. It may not be the same as your wishes, and their interest in a successful conclusion may not be as strong as yours.
If it only turns out to be something outside work then you might have to offer carrots such as tickets to concerts/events/places.
As I hear that many new graduates and other employees have an attitude where they think that they know best and don't take kindly to guidance of any sort, appealing to them to sign on to your or the Company's goals and objectives might not work.

Tips to Change Bad Behaving Teams to Good
Maurice Hogarth, Consultant, United Kingdom, Premium Member
  • To change the team’s behaviour, change the manager’s. Everyone works according to how they are managed.
  • Try this:
    • Clarify you have a ‘team’ (two or more people whose work is interdependent).
    • Clarify members KNOW, UNDERSTAND and ACCEPT team / personal purpose and objectives.
    • Ask members how to do the job ‘better’ (easier etc.) and enable them to do so.
  • Remember that if people are not listened to they will initially be annoyed (mistakes / accidents). Still not listened to leads to anger (deliberate-“mistakes”; go-slows, strikes). Still not listened to leads to apathy: ‘what’s the point’ (high absenteeism, minimum get by working).
    On the other hand, being listened to provides for ‘recognition’, a powerful motivating reward.
  • Demonstrate ‘listening’ by using the Itemised Response approach:
    • Say FIRST your ‘likes’ about their ideas (the good points)
    • Then identify any "CONCERNS" using the phrase “How to… overcome any apparent weaknesses e.g. do it within our current budget, …workload &c.
    • Then send them away to work out how to overcome the concerns.

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