Last week I attended the 2018 RCSA International Conference, held in Fiji.
One of the many brilliant speakers at the event was Rachael Robertson, who reminded the audience that we should never underestimate the importance that staff’s behaviour has on the development of a business’s culture…
Rachael had developed a very successful career in the corporate world, spanning over 15 years. Despite having only ever seen snow twice, Rachael applied to take part in the 58th annual expedition to Antarctica. Rachael was successful in securing the role of Station Leader and was charged with leading a team of 18 strangers into the wilderness of Antarctica for 6 months, to ensure that the Australian Davis Station was kept in working order.
Like most teams, Rachael’s was a diverse one. Baby boomers and Gen Y’s, Dads and Young Singles, Doctors and Diesel Mechanics, Extroverts and Introverts. Not only did this group work together for 38 hours a week, they also lived together, for 6 months.
Needless to say, irritating habits of individuals sometimes lead to conflict within the office.
One such example was, what Rachael termed, “The Bacon War”.
The team’s chef didn’t work on Monday mornings and the responsibility to cook breakfast was shared between the rest of the group. It turned out that the diesel mechanics liked their bacon crispy, while the plumbers liked their bacon soft. No matter which way the bacon was cooked, one group was left disappointed.
The way which bacon was cooked on Monday morning had become such a significant issue that it was brought to Rachael’s attention by a staff member who demanded a formal meeting be held to decide, once and for all, how the bacon must be cooked on a Monday morning.
To put things in perspective, Rachael was not only in charge for the delivery of a $20 million dollar research program, but the health and safety of 18 people living in minus 38 degrees and 24 hour darkness. Still, the way in which bacon was cooked once a week was deemed important enough by her staff to pause work and convene a meeting to resolve the problem.
Whilst Rachael’s specific working environment may be unique, the “bacon war” represents a common occurrence in most offices. Small, seemingly irrelevant behaviours of colleagues slowly grate away at others and lead to friction, reduced productivity and potentially conflict in the office.
Common examples in a more common office environment may include:
Colleagues being consistently late for meetings.
Colleagues leaving dirty dishes in the sink because the dishwasher is full.
Colleagues returning the company car with barely any petrol in it.
Colleagues turning their mobile phone volume up all the way and leaving it on their desk to ring out.
Colleagues finishing the last of the milk and not mentioning it to anyone.
On the surface these behaviours seem absolutely trivial, but we should never underestimate the importance that staff’s behaviour has on the development of a business’s culture. It is the way in which we interact with our colleagues on a daily basis that defines our company’s culture. Every action, no matter how big or small, takes a step towards building or destroying that culture.
Before we look at what we should do, let’s quickly look at what we shouldn’t do:
Ignore it: Ignoring someone’s behaviour not only does nothing to deter it, but it also sends the message that it is acceptable. This makes it very hard to tell someone otherwise in a few months.
Send an all staff e-mail: Unless the issue is a company-wide issue, don’t send a company-wide email. Better yet, do not send an e-mail at all. E-mails make it very hard to have a conversation with someone and can often be misinterpreted.
So, what should we do?
Define expected behaviour: While certain behaviours may seem obvious to you, they may not be so to your staff. Ensure that staff are aware of your business’s values and what those values look like in day to day behaviours.
Tackle issues today: If and when you become aware of an issue, deal with it straight away.
Discuss the behaviour: When speaking with a staff member or colleague about an unacceptable behaviour, ensure you discuss the behaviour and not the person. We are trying to change the behaviour, not the person.
Remain professional: Stick to the facts. That is, identify specific occasions where someone has exhibited an unacceptable behaviour and do not generalise. Avoid using phrases like “you are always late to our scheduled meeting” because they may reply with “that’s not true, I was on time 3 weeks ago”.
While it may be tempting to ignore a certain behaviour, addressing it and understanding the source of that behaviour can often lead to a more serious, underlying issue.
In Rachel’s case, the bacon war wasn’t about bacon at all. The relationship between two groups had broken down to the point where each side thought the other was deliberately sabotaging their happiness. It wasn’t about bacon, it was about respect.
Similarly, it’s not about the dirty dishes, it’s about the decision you made that your time was more valuable than mine. It’s not about the fact that you left your mobile on your desk, it’s that you show disregard for interrupting your colleague’s work.
So next time, let’s deal with a behaviour that is affecting the team before it turns into a fully-fledged “bacon war”. Tackle behaviours early before they become issues. Productivity will improve, job satisfaction will improve and, unfortunately for me, recruitment spend will go down.
For more information on Rachael’s experience in Antarctica and her insights into leadership, visit her website at www.rachaelrobertson.com.