Good Behavior by Decree

July 01, 2008
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Good Behavior by Decree

You can legislate good behavior among employees, says Quint Studer, author of "Results That Last: Hardwiring Behaviors That Will Take Your Company to the Top."

Managers can do so by developing a "standards of behavior" contract and requiring everyone from the receptionist to the CEO sign it. This document can address all aspects of behavior at work, from interaction with clients to phone etiquette to "good manners" (knocking on doors) to "positive attitude" markers (smiling or saying thank you).

Studer offers the following tips for creating a standards of behavior contract:

  • Seek input from all employees. Put together a "standards" team to spearhead the initiative and create the first draft. Just be sure that everyone has a chance to review the document and provide input before it's finalized. Don't let human resources write the standards and impose them on everyone else. You want to create buy-in, and that requires companywide participation.
  • Align desired behaviors with corporate goals and desired outcomes. Before you start writing, look at your organization's long-term goals and areas that need improvement. You must be able to measure the success of your standards by seeing an impact in many of the key metrics of your operation, whether those are increased member satisfaction, reduced rejects, or other measures.
  • Be crystal clear and specific in your wording. For example, don't write "display a positive attitude." Instead, write "smile, make eye contact, and greet members by name."

Don't worry about insulting people's intelligence. Sometimes people truly don't know what is appropriate behavior and what isn't. For instance, if you don't want common "slang" phrases used with members, you need to identify them right up front.

One standards of behavior document contains the phone etiquette directive, "Avoid phrases such as "ok," "yeah," "hold on," "honey," and "see ya."

  • Hold a ceremonial "roll out." Once you've finalized your standards of behavior document, it's time to implement it. Hold an employee forum or companywide meeting in which you introduce the standards and distribute pledges for everyone to sign.

You might want to create an event around your CEO and leadership team signing the pledge. You may even hold activities designed to educate employees about some of the points. Make it fun. But do have everyone sign a pledge. It's amazing how much more seriously people take rules when they've signed on the dotted line.

  • Hold people accountable when they violate a standard. Let employees know you'll hold them accountable for the behaviors the standards outline, then do so.

How you do this is up to you. Sometimes a simple meeting in which you show an employee the signed pledge and point out her error is sufficient. Other times, you might need to take more drastic disciplinary measures.

But one thing is clear: The standards of behavior pledge gives you something to hold people accountable to. It's worth implementing for that reason alone.

  • Create a designated "standard of the month." Every month, highlight a specific standard. This will boost awareness of the standards in general and will get people thinking about how that specific one applies to their daily lives.

"Let's say, for example, that you decide to focus on your policy for dealing with disgruntled customers," says Studer. "At the beginning of the month, a ‘reminder' e-mail detailing the policy is sent out. Next, you might ask employees to write up real-life or hypothetical scenarios in which they must deal with angry or dissatisfied customers.

"Finally, you might hold a companywide forum in which you recruit people to ‘act out' both sides of a conflict: the disgruntled customer and the employee trying to soothe this person," he continues. "Not only is this fun and often hilarious, it can be a valuable learning tool, as it forces people to see both sides of an issue."

  • Update the standards from time to time. One or two directives may not work as intended and may need to be changed. You may also discover new standards that need to be added as your company grows and evolves in new directions.

Have new applicants sign it right up front. Before interviewing prospective new employees, have them read and sign your standards of behavior. You will be able to eliminate job candidates up-front if they visibly balk at conforming to your corporate culture.

But more important, when you do hire someone, there will be no doubt about what you expect from this person. If he or she will have trouble meeting your standards, you'll probably know during the probationary period.


Studer says just knowing that a standards of behavior document exists—and knowing that their signature is affixed to a pledge to uphold it—is enough to keep employees on their toes. It creates an extra boost of awareness that affects day-to-day behavior.

Quint Studer is an author and founder of Studer Group, Gulf Breeze, Fla. Contact him at 850-934-1099.


Create Co-Worker Commitment

Author Quint Studer offers these examples of what to include in a behavior contract regarding the treatment of co-workers:


  • In verbal and non-verbal communication, I will treat coworkers respectfully and professionally by listening and avoiding defensiveness.
  • I will respond promptly to any form of communication.
  • I will report to work as scheduled. I will communicate delays as appropriate.
  • I will offer to assist coworkers and other departments when needed.
  • I will respectfully approach fellow employees and refrain from discipline or constructive criticism in public.
  • I will discuss issues directly with coworkers and not go to other people unless the issue cannot be resolved.
  • I will take responsibility for solving problems regardless of origin.
  • I will provide coworkers with a mini-report for continuity of workflow when I am planning to be out of the office.
  • I will be mindful and respectful of others' time and schedules. Meetings will start and end on time.
  • I will be accountable when completing assignments.
  • I will respect deadlines.
Source: Results That Last: Hardwiring Behaviors That Will Take Your Company to the Top," by Quint Studer. Reprinted with permission.



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