Managing Your Company's Behavioral Outliers

In my previous column, I looked at a common problem faced by business leaders today—the wide range of employee behaviors and the potential impact on company culture. All managers have to contend with a myriad of variable employee personalities, behaviors, and morals, including employees who exhibit poor cultural behaviors in our workplace. However, for every positive influence there is the potential for a negative outcome. The positive employees can actually have an equally negative effect on culture if there behaviors are not properly acknowledged and leveraged. It can signify a weak company culture.

Inspired by Malcom Gladwell, I created the term behavioral outliers and discussed both the people who are the highest of performers (those who exhibit desirable behaviors according to senior management) as well as those workers who exhibit less than desired behaviors yet still may be very strong producers.

To recap, there are two types of behavioral outliers: the positive behavioral outlier and the negative behavioral outlier. The positive behavioral outlier is seen as the star employee, while the negative behavioral outlier can be a huge management challenge. This unpredictable, though often successful, employee follows his or her own agenda as opposed to adhering to company values deemed essential to the company's well-being.

Unfortunately, senior management often accepts these negative outliers and their behaviors for the sake of profits—and even rewards the behavior through salary increases.

Research from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology examined "agreeableness" and found that men who measured below average on agreeableness earned about 18 percent more—or $9,772 more annually—than nicer guys. Ruder women earned about 5 percent or $1,828 more than their agreeable counterparts. But what the study didn't unearth was the damage to company culture and revenue these ruder people inflicted on their way to higher incomes.

There is another option.

Negative behavioral outliers can be managed in a way that does not hurt the greater employee base. And senior management should certainly not trade profitability for company morale, as occasionally is the case.

Let's look at another perspective—one that will demonstrate how to maintain outliers, but still build a solid, successful company culture via strategic recognition.

The key to ensuring positive behavioral outliers are encouraged while negative behavioral outliers are uncovered and appropriately managed lies in the creation of a powerful corporate culture—a working environment with intense focus on morals and values.

What exactly do we mean by strategic employee recognition? Or even recognition in general? To answer this, let's look at what universally drives employee productivity and "good" behavior.

Positive and negative outliers are actually like every other worker in that they both seek appreciation and acknowledgement for a job well done. In fact, everyone feels better and more engaged in a company that recognizes them frequently for good behavior; it is simple human nature. In addition, employees that are recognized by colleagues and peers are often even more motivated to perform consistently.

Applying strategy to employee recognition simply means creating a continuum of positive feedback, through consistent reward and events, that recognizes and acknowledges employee accomplishments. The employee feels appreciated and valued, and is more engaged, therefore more productive.

Strategic employee recognition refers to those companies that recognize employees on a regular basis, on a massive scale, and in a company whose values are clearly linked to recognition. The behaviors are reinforced across the whole company, shoring up a corporate culture of recognition even more vigorously.

A program upheld by the employees themselves will help steer a negative behavioral outlier toward the right path, as it becomes clear who is living the values and who is not. Outliers will soon learn which behaviors are encouraged and rewarded. Some may fall in line, some may continue their ways. But the distinction will be made.

When companies use strategic employee recognition to feed employees' needs for social acceptance, self-esteem, and self realization, they ensure a culture able to withstand the negative behavioral outlier. The employee's iconoclastic ways will have minimal impact on company culture and overall productivity.

With a strong culture, senior management does not have to accept damaging behaviors for the sake of profits because the culture will withstand the outlier, and may even encourage him or her to change behaviors. A significant mismatch in "cultural fit" will lead to inherent unhappiness in a negative behavioral outlier, who will likely self-select out of the organization and move on.

On the other side, the formalization of values-based recognition ensures the positive behavioral outlier is duly commended. Positive behavioral outliers will continue to align themselves with company values and maintain top producer or star employee status because they feel more rewarded for doing so. Rather than search for greener pastures of appreciation, these individuals will delight in being the model for others across the organization.

These recognition strategies enable leaders to clearly define the attributes of the positive outlier and leverage these behaviors as a trump card for developing a winning corporate culture of increased motivation and productivity. If leaders commit to creating a strong corporate culture, the overall outcome will be growth and stability. That translates into a powerful, successful organization capable of withstanding the test of time, and most certainly passing the "stress test" of the behavioral outliers.

Eric Mosley (emosley@globoforce.com) is CEO and co-founder at Globoforce, a leading provider of employee recognition solutions, which is co-headquartered in Southborough, Massachusetts and Dublin, Ireland. He is also the co-author of the book, Winning with a Culture of Recognition.

[Image: Flickr user West Park]

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