“All the beautiful sentiments in the world weigh less than a single lovely action.” James Russell Lowell

“Everybody wants approval.” Edward Norton in a New York Times interview on the new movie Birdman

These two quotes remind me of a question I have contemplated with fellow business owners: “what should the consequences be for personnel that are underperforming or whose behavior is inappropriate and possibly detrimental to the company?”

Let’s begin with the basics: It is absolutely critical to set clear expectations for job performance, including key performance indicators (KPIs) as well as how well an associate works with others (clients/customers, vendors, and other members of the team.) These are in addition to obvious expectations, like being on time, attendance, consistency, and the ability to master the specific characteristics necessary for their job. Please read my article on How To Create a Culture of Profitability to help you identify and clarify the characteristics necessary for each position.

According to a study done by the online career site glasdoor.com, most of us are far more motivated by psychic income than by money. Psychic income is often underestimated and under-appreciated as the best way to keep happy people happy. It includes all people on staff feeling they are in the loop, their ideas are acknowledged, and most importantly, knowing where they stand and being told their efforts are appreciated. All owners and managers should master the art of catching people doing things right and letting them know they are doing good work.

So how does this tie in to the quotes above?

I would modify James Russell Lowell’s quote to “all the money you may pay someone weighs less than a single lovely acknowledgment for a job well done” and that mirrors Edward Norton’s quote that we all want approval.

The opposite of showing appreciation is letting employees know their behavior is unacceptable or disruptive. Just as there is psychic income – there are psychic consequences; the most powerful form of psychic consequences is when a manager states disapproval with an employee’s actions.

Do not underestimate the power of “psychic consequences.” More than anything else, good employees want to please and this requires clarity on performance expectations.

Let your employee know immediately where he or she stands and how to change or modify behavior. Done right, there will be clear understanding of “why” and what is necessary to rectify the behavior.

Tips for clarity with employees:

  • Have them repeat what you shared
  • Have them tell you how they intend to correct the behavior (if possible)
  • Ask them to put that in writing and then take on the role of coaching them to success
  • Make sure a timeline is established and have a follow up meeting to hopefully celebrate appropriate changes

We want to hear bad news immediately, yet have a tendency to procrastinate sharing it. By catching negative behaviors at their onset and nipping them in the bud, you have the best chance of leading to a positive result.

Final points:

  • Praise in public – Criticize in private.
  • Attitude or behavior corrections require personal contact for clarity so nothing is lost in the translation. (Emails are a counterproductive way to communicate dissatisfaction.)
  • Gather all the facts before you criticize.
  • If negative behavior continues, have a plan for progressive discipline: Strike 2 – write them up (the next most powerful psychic consequence) and Strike 3 – let them go.
  • Serious company ethics issues require immediate termination. This is a consequence everyone in the company should know from day one.

Most importantly, before you criticize stop and ask yourself, “Do I have all the facts? What are the results I want? And what is the best way to get the most positive results?”