Setting the bar for ‘acceptable behaviour’

by External11 Dec 2015
Lisa Burrell outlines why it’s so essential to set performance expectations within the employment relationship – before minor issues become major issues.

Most HR practitioners will attest to some variation of "people don't leave jobs, they leave managers". From studies outlining the impact of poorly behaving or performing colleagues, through to job satisfaction factors, a lack of management action when required is a consistent theme which can significantly impact on employee engagement. 
HR practitioners understand the importance of resolving formal complaints to mitigate risks and often these complaints take centre stage. Time pressures and conflicting demands facing most people managers and HR practitioners mean that sometimes informal complaints are not given the same level of attention, and the question that we find most often arises is how to best approach the 'low level' behaviours that are not deemed significant in and of themselves?
These usually relate to a pattern of poor behaviour or performance that over time will have a significant impact on the working environment and productivity of the team. These can – over time – create a new set of accepted behaviours within an organisation.
The first step to address these ‘low level’ behaviours is having a shared understanding of what will and will not be accepted. Behaviours we consistently see displayed in employers of choice are:
  • Expectations come from the top: Senior management live and breathe the values of the organisation and lead by example
  • Clear policies and procedures: Both people leaders and employees know what is expected of them, as well as what is expected of their managers and peers – and what to do, or where to go, if there are issues
  • Training: People leaders are equipped to have the confidence to have difficult conversations
  • On the spot management: People are ‘pulled up’ at the time of issues. This doesn’t need to be every issue, every time, but patterns of behaviour must be raised and managed in real time
  • Self-management is expected and endorsed: Employees also have the confidence and imprimatur to address issues directly, and expect the same of their colleagues
HR can play a significant role in shaping these behaviours and outcomes. While in an ideal world, these elements will be driven throughout an organisation, it can be equally applicable to teams or divisions – where we have seen HR provide tangible benefits – at a localised level. The key factors for HR are:
  • Ensuring a clear framework is in place through policy, procedures and training – while the aim with low level issues should always to remediate rather than terminate, procedural adherence in managing discipline and terminations appears to be an ongoing stumbling block for employers
  • Actively testing decisions and management plans for consistency of application – playing devil’s advocate, testing for bias and delivering the ‘objective’ viewpoint can be an invaluable resource for a manager who may be frustrated or worn down
  • Supporting managers to have difficult or courageous conversations, including working through the complaints that can arise from these, and dealing with them effectively
Although time pressures often make it difficult to address some of the ‘low level’ behaviours that seem insignificant in isolation, lack of management action when addressing these issues can lead to a compounding negative impact on employee engagement. Given the potential impacts, addressing issues early on should be a priority and once equipped with the right tools, your people leaders will have the confidence to have difficult conversations.
For more information, including to discuss opportunities for support to your organisation, contact VECCI via or 03 8662 5333.

Lisa Burrell is the general manager of the Victorian Employers' Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VECCI). VEECI is Victoria’s most influential employer group, servicing over 15,000 Victorian businesses per annum. An independent, non-government body, VECCI was founded in 1851 by the business community to represent business.