Andrea Belk Olson headshot Andrea Belk Olson

Why leaders need to understand every behavior has a purpose

Behavior is what humans do, and it’s observable and measurable. Whether it is to walk from one place to another or to crack one’s knuckles, behavior serves some type of function and provides a consequence or reinforcement for the behavior. When leaders successfully identify the function of their organizational behaviors, one can reinforce an alternate, acceptable behaviors that will replace them.

When an employee has a particular need or function fulfilled by an alternate means, the mal-adaptive or unacceptable behavior is less likely to reappear. For example, if an employee seeks attention and a leader gives them attention in an appropriate way because of appropriate behavior, employees tend to cement the appropriate behavior and make the inappropriate or unwanted behavior less likely to appear.

While this sounds fairly clinical, and maybe even simply common-sense, it is often overlooked and underutilized by organizational leadership. We assume since we are working with experienced adults, that behavioral reinforcement isn’t really necessary – that’s only required for children. However, the opposite is quite true. Consider an employee who continually skirts deadlines, or avoids taking on tough projects – even if they are directly assigned to them. Does the manager address this behavior, or simply avoid conflict? When these behaviors aren’t addressed or corrected, it’s a way of validation – stating that the behavior is acceptable.

In addition, those leaders who aren’t attuned to their employees’ behaviors can miss many red flags. Has an employee who once was hard working and positive, recently tuned-out or disconnected from the group? This can be an indication of a problem, whether personal or professional. It could be an indication of anything from harassment in the workplace, all the way to problems at home such as an ill family member, adding stress to their day-to-day. While we often don’t want to cross the line into these deeper personal areas, an employee’s behavior is sending a signal nonetheless. Every behavior has a purpose, and these behaviors usually indicate a bigger, underlying issue. They often aren’t simply mood swings.

As leaders, we need to take more time to tune into employee behaviors, listen, observe, and take action. Leaders, whether consciously or not, are always shaping organizational culture with their behaviors, or lack thereof. If you want to build a strong, healthy and productive team, don’t simply ignore changes in employee behaviors, or fail to reinforce healthy and productive behaviors. It’s the job of leaders to develop people, and a key part of that role is understanding behavioral signals.

About the Author:

Andrea’s 22-year, field-tested background provides unique, applicable approaches to creating more customer-centric organizations. A 4-time ADDY® award-winner, she began her career at a tech start-up and led the strategic marketing efforts at two global industrial manufacturers.

In addition to writing, consulting and coaching, Andrea speaks to organizations around the world on how to craft effective customer-facing operational strategies to effectively differentiate and build healthy, efficient organizational cultures.

Connect with Andrea to access information on her books, workshops, keynote speeches, training or consulting. More information is also available on www.pragmadik.com and www.thecustomermission.com.