Raising the bar on behavior for a strong workplace 

There have been countless times when, as a human resource professional, a leader has approached me with a concern about one of their team members. Often, the conversation starts with, “They’re a great employee, but…” Then, of course, the words that follow describe the multitude of reasons of how they’re not a great employee. These leaders often value these team members because they have strong technical skills in their industry, often referred to as hard skills. Maybe the team member is a great mechanic, a skilled nurse, or a talented computer technician. 


What usually follows the “but” is a list of the behaviors that are lacking – the soft skills. Perhaps the team member is chronically late to work, rendering them unreliable. Or they are terse with their co-workers, making them unapproachable. Or, when they call in sick, it’s always the day after a long weekend, which is inconsiderate at best. The list goes on. 


Leaders in this position are often at a loss. They often believe that since productivity is acceptable and there isn’t any negligence or overt dishonesty, then they are powerless to address it. The question I ask these leaders is, “How is this poor behavior impacting the rest of your team?” Usually, the workplace culture is the first to suffer with a low performer dragging everyone else down. And yes, a team member with great hard skills and poor soft skills is almost always a low performer. 


When one person’s poor behavior is tolerated by leadership, the other team members begin to lower their standards to match that. It’s human nature. However, that can be turned around. One of the most effective ways to recognize your company’s high performers is to address the low performers. It’s also one of the best ways to build a strong workplace culture.


It sounds easy, right? In my experience, I have noticed that most people want to do the right thing and they can’t always know what that is unless you tell them. This can be an opportunity to coach your team member to what your expectation is. This is your chance to raise the bar for your behavior expectations. This will make your workplace culture stronger, which will help you retain your high performing team members. 


Sometimes it will take more than one conversation. Sometimes these conversations will need to be formalized in writing. And yes, sometimes the team member in question will resign under that pressure or need to be fired. This is often referred to as “desirable turnover.”

Keep in mind that we’re only addressing soft skills here. Often, we find that challenges such as negligence, fraud, or hard-skill deficiencies are more easily identified and therefore easier for leaders to address. Whatever the action, however, be certain that your standards are applied fairly and consistently to everyone.

Be real, be sincere, and don’t let avoidance get the best of you. Your high performing team members deserve it. 

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