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Winning at Working: Workplace 911
by Nan Russell

I've watched a few episodes of Nanny 911 and with the chaos, out of control children and seemingly irreparable behavior, it strikes me as a precursor to Workplace 911. No, not a new reality TV show, but everyday workplace problems.

You see, kids who don't get their way, who learn to hit, manipulate, scream and throw things, grow up and go to work. By the time they're adults, they've replaced their aberrant behaviors, like spitting, with more socially acceptable ones like sarcastic zingers and verbal tirades. They're the liars, the saboteurs, the bullies, and the road-blockers we meet up with at work. And I've met my share.

But here's the thing. Just as those parents are challenged by the Nanny to identify and correct what they're doing to encourage and reward their children's behavior, we need to challenge ourselves to do the same at work. If you want to be winning at working, you need to uncover what you're doing to encourage and reward behaviors that you don't like. You need to recognize which hot buttons hook you into unproductive patterning at work and which, like those parents desperate to contain their children's behavior, reduce your results.

I learned in twenty years of managing there's one key that can change everything. Figure out what you're rewarding. It doesn't matter if you're five or thirty-five, whatever gets rewarded gets done. But, it's not as easy as it sounds. And don't confuse rewards only with something positive. If a co-worker gets you irritated enough to yell at him, he may feel rewarded because he's "gotten to you."

Too often what we think we're rewarding, and what we are, are not the same. Too often we've set up reward systems that create the work problems we face. And too often, the behaviors that exasperate us are the ones we're unknowingly reinforcing.

Say a local pizza company decides to reward drivers for on-time delivery. Sounds good, but in actuality, they'd be rewarding speeding and reckless driving. Here's an example from Management Review, "A freight company that based its reward system on the number of packages shipped thought productivity was way up until an internal audit revealed that only 45% of the containers were shipped full."

How about the Texas school system making recent news? It thought it was rewarding teachers for raising test scores. But, it was rewarding numbers over methods. So, one school held back 75% of ninth graders so lower achieving students would not participate in tenth grade tests, and the school's staff was rewarded for achieving their goal.

If you want to be winning at working and stop Workplace 911 behaviors from affecting your results, do two things: first, model the behavior you expect from others. Respect comes from giving respect and trust from giving trust. Second, look beyond the desired outcomes to the behaviors that lead to them. Reward that behavior, since whatever gets rewarded gets done. When you find and reward the right behaviors, you'll get the right results.

© 2005 Nan S. Russell. All rights reserved.

Nan Russell has spent over twenty years in management, most recently with QVC as a Vice President. She has held leadership positions in Human Resource Development, Communication, Marketing and line Management. Nan has a B.A. from Stanford University and M.A. from the University of Michigan. Author of Hitting Your Stride: Your Work, Your Way (Capital Books; January 2008). Sign up to receive Nan's "Winning at Working" tips and insights at


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