A while ago, I had the opportunity to meet with a senior executive at my company. Over dinner, I posed to him a question on something that has become the focus area for NetApp these days – ‘Execution focus’. I asked him what he understood that to mean, because often, different departments have different yardsticks to measure execution. For the sales and pre-sales team, the easiest way to measure it is the number of orders being received from customers. For engineering teams, it may be the timing and quality of their releases. For a few other departments, such as Finance or HR, execution may be a bit trickier to measure. To my question, his response was extremely simple: ‘Execution focus means I have to model the behaviour that I expect of others. If you expect people to turn up prepared at your meetings, you do the same when you attend meetings called for by others! If you expect people to respond to your emails within a reasonable time, you do the same, too! It may seem tough at first but people will quickly catch on that you mean business, and over a short period, it will result in a cultural change where things are accomplished on the basis of the company’s needs, and not at the whims and fancies of people who are responsible for those actions. A simple action can result in a huge win for the company!’
As I thought through this, I realised that modelling behaviour is critical, not only at the work place, but also in our own daily non-work lives. How many times have we discoursed a particular way of behaving in a situation, only to be caught on the wrong foot when we have faced the situation ourselves? There is a saying, ‘Be the change that you want to see in the world.’ This is exactly what modelling behaviour is about. Often, we face this when we talk to our children, who are extremely quick at pointing out our fallacies in such instances!
The day after I had this chat, I went with my daughter to drop her off at school. The school authorities had clearly instructed all parents that kids need to be dropped off before 8:25am, and that the gates would be locked at that point. Despite the warning, a few parents turned up late. The school, though, modelled its expected behaviour, even turning away the few teachers who reported after the stated time. For the parents, the correct thing to do in the situation would have been to accept that they were late, apologise, and promise not to repeat the mistake. Their kids would have learnt lessons in humility, truthfulness, and the importance of being on time.
The behaviour they actually demonstrated was completely different. First, they argued with the guards at the gate that the school clock was wrong, and that it was in fact 8:25am when they had arrived to drop off their kids. Second, they pleaded that the school’s decision had caught them by surprise, because they had no prior intimation. In both instances, I wondered, if their kids saw them behave in this manner, what incentive would they have to do the ‘right thing’ later on in life? Were their parents not doing them a huge disservice by modelling the wrong behaviour? We do not always think of the impact our behaviour has on our children. Eventually, the school authorities let the parents off with a warning, and allowed their wards in. The good news is that the next day, every child turned up well ahead of the scheduled time, and there was no ‘negotiation’ needed.
Clearly, it is often the simple things that are the most impactful. So, model the right behaviour, and you would have done your fair bit to make the world a better place, or at least to make your work place, a better work place!
This article is based on discussions with Deepak Naragund argues that instilling the right behaviours is critical, not just at the workplace, but in our daily lives, too.
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