The Fix for Speeding and Bad Behavior at Work

Workplace culture

What percent of drivers do you think abide by a 55 MPH speed limit?

In my experience, it’s hardly anyone, and those who do are scorned by other drivers as creating a hazard.

Why people speed

It’s weird when you think about it. The sign says 55, and yet most everyone ignores it because:

  1. People think the limit is too low. They believe they can safely drive faster.
  2. People see others driving faster, so figure they may as well do the same.
  3. People believe law enforcement doesn’t care if they go “a little over the limit.”

On point #3, they would be right. I once heard a law enforcement official tell a group the trigger speeds at which the police pull you over and write a ticket. It was 72 MPH in a 55 and 42 MPH in a 30.

How to reduce speeding

If as a society we wanted to get serious about speed limit compliance, we could. Here’s how I would do it:

  1. Communicate that speed limits are important and that law enforcement will start to pull people over who are any speed over the limit.
  2. Secure the resources necessary to significantly step up enforcement.
  3. Start pulling people over for lower speeds, occasionally throwing in a ticket at 56 or 57 MPH. Word will travel fast when someone gets a ticket for 1-2 MPH over the limit. It might not hold up in court and law enforcement couldn’t possibly keep up, but it would reinforce that speeding is not okay.
  4. Ask other motorists to help keep people in compliance. Imagine a system to call in the license plate of anyone you see speeding? Someone blows by and your passenger (because you are paying attention to driving) reports the speeder. Anyone who gets more than two reports from different people in the same hour automatically gets a ticket.

By the way, I’m not advocating for this approach. My point is that it could and it would make a difference. When rules are enforced behavior changes.

Behavior creates culture

Which brings us to your workplace culture. Your culture is defined by the way people behave in it.

Just as speeds go as high as law enforcement and society are willing to accept, workplace behavior sinks as low as leaders and coworkers are willing to accept.

If you’re not happy with the culture, you need to change the behaviors. The process is not unlike my prescription for bringing down speeds.

Workplace norms support the culture you want

When I work with groups, I often invite them to create new norms. These are the behaviors that they all agree to live by.

Most of the time the ideas for these norms originate with an irritation, some behavior that one or more coworkers no longer want to accept.

To make this happen in your workplace, here’s what you need to do.

  1. Ask people to think about the behaviors they think have fallen below a level they are willing to tolerate. I hate when people don’t clean up after themselves in the break room.
  2. Have them convert that irritation into a positive expectation about what they wish would happen instead. Clean up any mess you make when using the break room.
  3. Hone in on the top 4-6 wishes the members of the group would like to see become the new workplace norms. Hopefully they are more important than break room messes, but you need to start somewhere.
  4. Refine each of the norms so that they are clear, actionable, valuable, and enforceable. If you heat up food in the microwave and it splatters, use a wet paper cloth to clean it immediately after you are finished with it.
  5. Ask for everyone’s commitment to behave in a manner consistent with the new norms.
  6. The leader and all coworkers reinforce behavior that’s consistent with the norms and hold each other accountable if people start to slip.
  7. The members of the group occasionally evaluate how well they are following the norms and if there are problems, work together to address them.

As a society we could change driving behavior if we wanted to. As a leader in your workplace, you can change the behaviors that define your culture.

It’s all about clear and agreed upon expectations and then helping each other meet those expectations.

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By Tom LaForce

Tom LaForce owns LaForce Teamwork Services, a Minneapolis-based consulting company. He's on a mission to create better results through teamwork. He wrote Meeting Hero: Plan and Lead Engaging, Productive Meetings.