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Common sense is not common

4 min read


What do your leaders celebrate in your workplace? Take a moment and write down the five to 10 things that leaders measure, praise, encourage, recognize, or reward on a regular basis.

Don’t look at service awards or other annual recognition that are given out. Note down the day-to-day messages that team members hear.

Next, categorize these messages, rewards, and praisings. Note which rewards are about results, performance and money, and which rewards are about cooperative interaction, citizenship and kindness.

I’ll wager you’ll have a majority of those messages categorized as performance-related. I wouldn’t be surprised if you had 80% or more of the rewards in your workplace focused on performance and results.

Don’t get me wrong — I love results! Performance, results, and profits are definitely important. They help your enterprise survive.

However, what makes your enterprise thrive is the quality of your work environment. A healthy workplace means that everyone in the organization — and even customers — are treated with trust, dignity, and respect in every interaction.

The challenge is that most leaders have not been asked to manage the quality of their work environment. They may not know how! Their previous and current bosses — their role models — simply measured, monitored, managed and rewarded results. So, that’s exactly what they do — they focus on results.

And, typically, the daily messages those leaders communicate reinforce the importance of results, the measurement of results, etc. And, if all you’re measuring is results, people may choose to go to extremes to deliver them.

They may throw tantrums. They may be mean. They may yell. They may undermine others’ efforts. They may withhold vital information, and worse. Just so they win while their peers lose.

I don’t think leaders intend to create unhealthy work environments. I’m convinced that leaders assume that their people will be nice to each other.

Treating peers and customers with trust, dignity, and respect is common sense, right? Everybody knows how they should behave. Yet, some don’t behave nicely. They serve themselves, not others.

The problem with common sense is it ain’t very common. In the absence of clear expectations, us humans don’t always play nice.

If leaders want both high performance and workplace trust and respect, they must demand it. They must formalize not only expected results but also expected values and citizenship.

They must craft an organizational constitution that specifies the team’s (or company’s) present day purpose, values and behaviors, strategies, and goals.

Then leaders must hold everyone, including themselves, accountable for both results and for tangible, measurable valued behaviors.

Don’t rely on common sense. Create common goals and shared values, then reinforce them daily. Your organization will thrive.

What do you think? What percentage of the messages team members hear in your company focus on results? To what extent does your company define and demonstrate values and behaviors? Share your thoughts about this post/podcast in the comments section below.

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