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Exercise: Define the Behavior You Reward and Punish

Defining specific behaviors will help you turn your values into action.

By Gustavo Razzetti

November 17, 2021

Your company culture is not defined by words, but by action. The behaviors that are either rewarded or punished say more about your real culture than aspirational values. This exercise will help you complete one of the key building blocks of the Culture Design Canvas.

Defining specific behaviors will help you turn your purpose and values into action. Clarify what's expected and what's not. Identify observable behaviors – what will be tolerated or not.

Goal

Help your team or company connect core values with concrete behaviors – what's rewarded and punished.

Materials

Remote session: Behaviors You Reward and Punish MURAL template

In-person workshop: PDF template, post-it, markers, whiteboard

How to Facilitate the Behaviors that Are Rewarded and Punished Session

This exercise is split into two distinct parts: ideation and selection. While identifying the behaviors you want to reward and punish are critical, selecting only the right ones is even more important. You can use this activity to define the behaviors for the first time or to update existing ones.

The end goal is to identify observable behaviors that people can immediately relate to. Is this okay? Shall we tolerate this or not?

For example, Patagonia punishes consumerism and rewards team players, not stars.

People should be able to immediately jump and celebrate or call out those behaviors.

Step 1: Identify the Behaviors You Punish

Download the MURAL template.

Starting with the things that shouldn't be tolerated will push the team beyond their comfort zone. It's harder to recognize the behaviors you want to eradicate from your culture – it's easy to celebrate a good behavior than to call out unacceptable ones.

Use the following questions to guide the conversation:

  • What could get you into trouble?
  • What behavior should always be called out?
  • How do we not want people to behave when no one is looking?
  • What would betraying our values look like?
  • What would get you fired?

Give people 5 minutes to capture their own thoughts. Then start a conversation so people can share their behaviors and build off each other's ideas. It's okay if people have different thoughts – use contradictions and tensions to spark deep conversations.

Remind people to focus on what's important to the organization or team – not just what's good for them.

Example: Slack punishes "backstabbing," "brilliant jerks," and "using Slack after regular work hours." Pixar punishes "mediocrity," "egos," and "Silicon Valley's type of culture."

Step 2: Identify the Behaviors You Reward

Apply the same principles and guides as in step 1.

Use the following questions to guide the conversation:

  • What could get you hired?
  • What behavior would get kudos from the team?
  • How do we want people to behave when no one is looking?
  • What would a positive role model look like?
  • What could get you promoted?

Example: Slack rewards "empathy and curiosity," "addressing issues in the open," and "giving back to the community." Pixar rewards "having fun," "creativity as a team sport," "the same quality bar for all movies," and "a peer culture – everyone supporting each other."

Step 3: Select top 3-5 behaviors

Invite participants to rank the behaviors from most to least important. Select at least 3 and a maximum of 5 per each type – rewarded and punished.

The purpose of the selection phase is to choose meaningful behaviors that will drive the culture in the right direction. Don't get caught by "look good" behaviors. Encourage people to think twice before choosing theirs. Also, avoid playing it to the extremes – neither select 'easy' behavior, nor those that would be too hard to adopt.

If the team has difficulty selecting the top behaviors, conduct a voting session, allowing 5 votes per team member.

Step 4: Evaluate the Selected Behaviors

Use the following checklist to review the selected behaviors that are rewarded and punished.

Do the behaviors help bring your purpose and values to life?

Are these behaviors easy to observe by everyone?

Is the language specific and clear for everyone to understand?

Can your team commit to consistently rewarding or punishing those behaviors?

Will your organization consistently follow through?

What could happen on a bad day?

Avoid rewarding one behavior and punishing the opposite one. Focus on the most important observable behavior. For example, it's easier to punish gossiping than rewarding not gossiping. Conversely, it's easier to reward innovative ideas than to punish average ones.

Your culture is the behavior you reward and punish. Words are invisible, actions are not.

More Culture Design Exercises

Establish priorities with even over statements

Design your team purpose

The Psychological Safety Canvas

What do you think?

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