When I was a boy growing up in New York City, one of my favorite places in all the world was the American Museum of Natural History. And my favorite place in the museum was the giant dinosaur skeleton.
I used to stand there gazing up through the rib cage to the ceiling that was far above my head, imagining what it would be like to stand on the jungle floor next to a creature that big. Back then I never thought about how terrifying it could be. It took the movie “Jurassic Park” to fill in that gap.
The scene that really got me was the one that’s usually called “T-Rex Breakout.” It begins with people sitting in a Land Rover in a rain storm. There are glasses of water on the dashboard. And you first become aware of the dinosaur by the shaking of the water in those glasses. After I saw that scene and that movie, I could never again think of a dinosaur as “cute.”
Dinosaurs are long gone from the face of the earth, so we don’t have much to fear from them. But if you’re responsible for the performance of a group, you have to deal with behavior problems, which turn out to be very much like dinosaurs.
Behavior Problems Are the T-Rex of Problems
Performance problems are pretty much straightforward. You discover them, you deal with them, and you move on. Behavior problems are different because they can wreck your entire team and maybe even your entire career.
You know the kind of thing I’m talking about. There’s the team member that always takes credit for good ideas and for achievements. There’s another one that’s constantly running down others and sniping at their successes. There’s the team member with poor personal hygiene and the one who’s always late. And, of course, there’s that team member who carries on long, loud telephone discussions about personal details that make everyone in earshot uncomfortable.
Those problems are nasty. They’re big, and they’re almost impossible to solve. That is, they’re almost impossible to solve if you let them grow that big.
Little Problems Are Easier to Solve
That T-Rex wasn’t always big and nasty. At one point, T-Rex was tiny and easy to deal with. Even before that, T-Rex was an egg that could be handled even more easily and safely. Your behavior problems are like that, too.
Behavior problems are almost always easy to deal with when they’re small and new. If you’re the boss, that means three things for you.
Catch Problems Early
You want to catch those problems before they grow big and nasty. The way to do that derives from good boss behavior. Touch base a lot. Have conversations with your people. If you do that as a regular part of the way that you work, you’ll find out about problems when they’re still small enough to handle.
When you become aware of a behavior problem, deal with it right away. The longer you wait, the more likely it is to grow big and nasty. After more than 40 years in business, I can tell you this: Behavior problems don’t solve themselves.
Stay with It
The other thing I can tell you about behavior problems is that one shot at solving them usually isn’t enough. You’re probably going to have to have several conversations with those involved before you can declare victory. Relentless follow-up and solid documentation should be part of your process.
Behavior problems are like dinosaurs. They’re easy to handle when they’re small, but if you let them go, they’ll grow up to be big and nasty. Spend time with your people and have conversations so you can spot problems while they’re small. Act promptly to start the problem-solving process. Follow up relentlessly until the problem is truly solved.
More From Wally Bock
In addition to writing the Three Star Leadership blog, Wally Bock is an author, ghostwriter, writing coach and book doctor. In his past lives he has run a small publishing company, been a popular keynote speaker to audiences around the world, and served as a U. S. Marine. He loves good beer, good friends, and good stories.