Ask Your Team Better Questions to Reinforce Better Behaviors

Your staff and volunteer culture may be the most crucial aspect of your organization.

That’s what Peter Drucker believed. When he said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” he believed that your values, beliefs, and norms drive behaviors. As strategy, model, systems, and methods are behavioral, your culture ultimately determines if your model is followed.

REALLY QUICK: Before we continue this together, I recently posted a new e-book and short video on pastoral leadership. Make sure you grab it HERE. 

I’ve seen this play out in my leadership journey time and again.

One of two things happen in organizations:

1. Values Remain: Well-defined values that are consistently reinforced keep desired behaviors in place. How people work and act remains consistent with the values.

2. Values Drift: The other option is the inverse. At a minimum, every organization has values written on the wall, on their website, or printed in a brochure. But if these values aren’t consistently reinforced, the associated behaviors give way to personal and natural behaviors. Worse, these new and potentially undesirable behaviors begin an inversed process, creating new (and unwritten) values, beliefs, and norms.

It’s simple, really.

Values create beliefs that drive behaviors. Since behaviors are more tangible, the values remain in place when they are reinforced. When behaviors are not reinforced, new behaviors form and eventually establish new beliefs and values.

Reinforcing desired behaviors is the secret to keeping your desired culture in place.

How can you best reinforce behaviors? Not through punishment and rewards but through questions.

The questions we ask determine the direction we go. When you, as the leader, ask specific behavioral questions, the team and organization take note of what matters.

Let me give you an example. In my leadership role at Woodstock City Church, I felt we needed to all become less risk-averse. The world was changing quickly, and to keep up, we would need to take risks, try new things, and evaluate to improve. We weren’t doing that as well as I had hoped, so I asked a new question at a staff meeting: “What’s something you or your team recently tried that didn’t work? “

This specific question made smart risks less risky. It positioned failure as a means to eventual success.

The associated value was “Make it Better.” We valued improvement. This value requires behaviors related to evaluation, feedback, risk, and some failure. If people are afraid to take a chance that may fail, we limit our “Make it Better” value. Worse, if left unchecked for too long, the riskless behaviors would change our desired value to something like “Play it Safe” or “Don’t Fail.”

See how easily values can shift when we neglect to reinforce behaviors?

Here’s a simple exercise you can do in your organization to test the values to behaviors connection:

1. What are your stated values? You’ve written them down somewhere, right?
2. What beliefs and associated behaviors must be in place for these values to exist?
3. How often are these behaviors evident?
4. What other behaviors are prevalent? And what unplanned beliefs and values might they be creating?

Bottom Line: If you don’t monitor and reinforce the behaviors connected to your values, new behaviors will surface, creating new values in time.

How can I help?

I created Transformation Solutions to help ministry and marketplace leaders progress from innovation through implementation. I dedicate my time to helping leaders discover potential problems, design strategic solutions, and deliver the preferable future. That includes you and your staff culture. Let me know if working together may work for you.

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