What are you going to do about it?

We’ve all either seen or been a part of an altercation where this challenge is thrown down:

“Oh yeah?  What are you going to do about it?”

Siblings are famous for this (especially in the back seat of the family truckster on a long trip). You hear it on the playground when one kid tells another to stop picking on them. And your employees think it when you tell them they shouldn’t be doing something.

It’s natural for us to wonder about the consequences of an action we haven’t taken, but were told we shouldn’t.  Sometimes it’s about curiosity, other times it’s about testing the boundaries.  Either way, you need an answer.

So, what are you going to do about it?

If the answer is nothing, then it’s going to be very difficult to build trust and structure among your teams.

Now, I don’t know many leaders who have a policy to ignore bad behavior, but in practice that happens all the time. We shy away from coaching or providing feedback for one reason or another, and the employee starts to see that nothing will really happen if they don’t meet your standards. Once the consequence of not performing is gone, so is the motivation TO perform.

There is a popular story in Hollywood about film director Orsen Welles. On the first day of filming, he would always fire someone, just to show everyone else that there are real consequences to not performing, and those consequences will be carried out.

Now while I don’t condone firing someone just to prove a point, I do endorse enforcing the standards and rules you have in place and if that leads to disciplinary action or termination, so be it.

At the core of all of this is the human’s desire for structure. Some require more than others, but everyone needs at least a little. Your employees have to know that the rules you outlined in training and that appear in the company handbook mean something. That if they don’t follow the rules, there is an undesirable outcome. And, that if another employee does the same, the undesirable outcome will happen to them, too.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Be clear – Clear rules are easier to enforce than arbitrary ones.  Be clear YOURSELF on what the rule is and why it’s there, and it will be easier to enforce with others.
  • Be consistent – If there is one thing that people pick up on quickly, it’s inconsistency.  Consistency builds pattern and structure that people can count on and trust.  They can then, by the way, trust you.
  • Be conscience – Being aware of WHY or WHEN you might shy away from coaching is as important as actually doing it.  Is it a particular person or maybe a certain situation?  Figure that out and work backwards to find out why you are doing it.

Without structure, people start to lose direction and focus. That’s chaos, and not a fun place to be.

What do you think?

About the author: Matt Heller wrote this post (it is his blog, after all).  He is a firm believer in the concept of less is more, although he is quick to point out that sometimes less is less, and occasionally, less just isn’t as much.

2 thoughts on “What are you going to do about it?

  1. Great post and as you stated consistency is key. If you walk by bad behavior and don’t address it on a regular basis and then one day decide to lay down the law, your employee will be shocked. If on the other hand, you become comfortable addressing things as they arise it will become the norm and will be readily accepted. Sports coaches do it all the time, constantly pointing out weaknesses in technique or effort and amazingly enough their players don’t take it personally. Why? Because they expect it.

    • Frank – thanks for the comment. You brought up something that has really got me thinking… why such a difference in sports vs. work when it comes to corrective coaching and feedback? How can we get our employees to expect it (and want it) and like you said, not take it personally? I know part of that is in the delivery, but there is probably more to it. Would love to hear more of your thoughts on that!


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