Creating and Enforcing Civility In Your Work Environment

Contributed by Chris Edmonds, Founder and CEO of The Purposeful Culture Group.

How nice are leaders and team members in your organization to each other? How nice are leaders and team members to your organization’s internal and external customers? Setting clear values expectations – with behavioral definitions – is a great start to a nicer, more civil work environment. But setting expectations alone won’t align behavior. Holding people accountable for those behaviors is how one ensures a nicer workplace.

At a particular small diner, the owners and staff have created a comfortable customer experience that patrons love.

The food is terrific, the staff is modeling great service, and the environment is safe and inspiring. Business is booming.

Safe and inspiring work environments – for employees and customers – are unfortunately not normal. It’s all too rare, even if leaders want that kind of environment.

How do you craft such an environment? One step is to demand that people respond with courtesy in every interaction.

The diner owner has a big sign posted near the front door stating, “Be Nice or Leave.” The owner said, “If staff members can’t be nice, they can’t work here. If customers can’t be nice, they can’t eat here. Life is too short to put up with mean people.”

The “Be Nice or Leave” concept has been popularized by the talented Dr. Bob, creator of gorgeous New Orleans folk art.

One culture client implemented values and behaviors in their stores. Store leaders received training in the new approach before the valued behaviors were put into place. Store leaders and employees “signed up” – literally, they signed a form – to model the new values and behaviors in every interaction.

These behavioral expectations allowed team leaders and members to not only praise peers when the model their valued behaviors but to raise questions with borderline behaviors, promptly and confidently.

One store employee was known to have a bad temper. She could “fly off the handle” – storming into the stock room, cursing like a longshoreman – at the slightest provocation, by peer or customer.

Soon after the values and behaviors were announced, she popped a cork at work. She barely contained herself in the store’s public areas – but as soon as she got into the stock area, the curse words flew, loud and long.

Her employee peers heard it (they couldn’t miss it). Customers on the floor heard it too (again, it was impossible to miss).

The store manager and her team leader approached her promptly. Behind closed doors, they explained that the employee had broken one of their new team citizenship valued behaviors: “No cursing, no tantrums.” They coached her to ensure she understood that her behavior could not continue if she wanted to remain a company employee. She understood, and calmly went back to her station.

I wish I could say that this conversation stopped her bad behavior forever. It didn’t. She popped her cork later the sameweekand was suspended for that infraction. She chose to leave the company rather than return to work.

If your workplace tolerates bad behavior of any kind, refine, refine, refine so it is consistently nice. You’ll enjoy better employee engagement, customer experiences, and performance – and profits.

What do you think? How “nice” is your workplace? How does your organization manage workplace civility?

Contributed by S. Chris Edmonds, the founder and CEO of The Purposeful Culture Group. After a 15-year career leading and managing teams, Chris began his consulting company in 1990. Since 1995, Chris has also served as a senior consultant with The Ken Blanchard Companies. Chris provides high-impact keynotes, executive briefings, and executive consulting. He is the author or co-author of seven books, including Leading At A Higher Level with Ken Blanchard. Learn how to craft workplace inspiration with an organizational constitution in Chris’ new book, The Culture Engine, available now. His blog, podcasts, free assessments, research, and videos can be found at

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