Well - What Did You Really Expect?

Human Behavior Drivers

It seems that we are constantly surprised by human behavior. This is especially true of society's leaders such as managers and executives or corporations, government officials, club executives etc. It can be equally true in family units and individual relationships. We seem to be astonished when people do not react as we expect them to do.

In reality, most behaviors are actually pretty predictable. It is our expectations that are often poorly grounded. People gravitate to behaviors that optimize pleasure or reward and/or avoid discomfort or punishment. When we view actions from an individual's perspective on these, the behaviors are pretty much what you would expect.

We see this in business all the time. How many times have you heard business leaders tell their staff that "Quality is our Top Priority!". Having said that, the reality from the lower rank's perspective is that cost overruns and delays are punished and on-time deliveries are rewarded. Who is going to risk stopping production over a quality issue? Yet when quality problems persist, management is astonished that their message did not get through. Actually the message did get through but it was not the one they vocalized. Well - what did you really expect?

Another common business example is the behaviors generated by the various management bonus programs that are so popular in western business. These bonuses are typically tied to certain measures that, if achieved, will result in bonus being paid. Most commonly these measures are financial and are related to the specific area the manager controls and not to the success of the enterprise overall. They are further eroded in value by the time base - often as much as 18 months between setting the bar and measuring the jump. Business conditions can vary significantly over such a period but the measures often remain the same. You can be sure that the manager being measured will act in a manner that ensures that the measures are met even if the actions taken are detrimental to the company as a whole. These actions may include cost cutting in one area that generates costs or revenue losses in another area, meeting performance numbers in activities that are measured to the detriment of others that may have grown in business importance or generating excess finished product inventory when sales have dropped. At the end, the executives are baffled as to how all these measures are being met but company performance is still poor. Well - what did you really expect?

We find similar examples in our relationships. How often have you heard the complaint that someone can not understand why their wife, husband, child or significant other never confides or shares feelings with them. It usually does not take much digging to discover that past attempts to do so were treated with derision or off-hand "simple" solutions rather that the sympathetic sounding board that they were looking for. I can remember trying to discuss an inadvertent behavior problem I was having and was trying to correct with someone I thought I could trust. I was told "So stop doing it - what are you an idiot?". This was followed by an extended diatribe on my social inadequacies. That was the last time I confided in that individual. Some time later that same person wanted to know why I never discussed my problems. Well - what did you really expect?

We can even bring the discussion to a simple level. I have seem people call their dog to them and then proceed to punish it for some "accident". They then wondered why the animal did not come when it was called.  Well - what did you really expect?

If we want others to behave in certain ways, we have to remember these reward/punishment drivers. We have to remember that our actions speak a lot louder that our words.

Copyright © 2004 by Rod Vokey