Behaviors and Systems – Intentional and Disciplined

Published by Mark Zerbach on


Leadership Article Series


The behaviors of people in a company, along with the systems the company has put in place, are at the very core of what can make a company successful. There are certainly other factors that influence a company’s success, but these two elements are critical to the day-to-day efforts of your business and must be analyzed with that in mind. Leaders are responsible for establishing both behavior standards and systems in an intentional, disciplined way in order to create an environment in which people can succeed.

Key Terms

Behavior: the way people act and conduct themselves, especially with others.
System: a set of things in an interconnected network working together as one mechanism
Intentional: done deliberately and for a specific purpose
Disciplined: operating in a controlled way


It falls to you, as a leader, to create and live intentional, disciplined behavior standards and to provide intentional, disciplined systems that ensure the company’s success. A company’s success comes from its employee’s success. You have to design behaviors and systems for everyone to follow, and also set the example in following those designs yourself.

Let’s first examine what it means for behavior and systems to be both intentional and disciplined. The word “intentional” suggests that something is not done by chance, nor is it simply chosen from a list of options. In the context of business, it implies that something has been scrutinized, researched, and then ultimately identified as the best approach. You have to consider what you want your company’s priorities and values to be.

The term “disciplined” suggests organized implementation and follow-through. It means that whatever was put into place was done so properly, and that it will be monitored and corrected if not carried out as designed. Having discipline in a company creates a positive type of predictability. Employees learn what the norms are and will function within those norms.


Every organization has norms for behavior, even if a leader hasn’t intentionally established them. Group behaviors are primarily determined by leaders; it’s their example that sets the norms. As your organization’s leader, you set the standard for others to follow by demonstrating the right way to handle situations. This is something that happens multiple times every day.

You choose what your organization values based on the behavior decisions you make. Your behaviors represent the company’s values to the employees, and how you all behave collectively will be the image you project to the outside world. The whole image of the company begins with the behaviors its leaders practice.

In order to promote the right behaviors across your company, you must have developed a positive working relationship with the people in your organization. As the adage says, “No one cares what you know until they know you care.” People will not try to emulate a person they don’t know or respect. You have to get to know the people who work for you so they can see that you care about them and their success. You need to consciously decide to show interest in your people in ways that will be clear and noticeable.

In his book, Leading Change, John Kotter refers to a study done with fifteen of the world’s best business leaders. These individuals spend over 90% of their time out of their offices, interacting with people at every level and in every function. As they communicate with people, they are both establishing and reinforcing their companies’ behavioral norms.

Once the behaviors have been established, you are are also responsible for maintaining a disciplined adherence to these behaviors, both by you and your employees. First off, the behaviors have to be explicitly taught and explained. Then, employees must see that there are consequences to following or varying from the behaviors. If one of your groups delivers a poor-quality product, and you shrug it off, you’ve essentially told them that there’s no reason to maintain the expected standard. If you share with the whole company the positive changes that a specific group has made, you’re telling people that making positive changes is something to work for. People will adopt whichever behaviors you reinforce.


Just as people will follow whatever behaviors you’ve established, they’ll also follow the systems you put in place. Systems — both company-wide and on a group level — must be established in order to direct the flow of work being performed each day. Engineering can design new products; manufacturing can optimize their processes and become more efficient; sales can sell more than ever before. However, it all needs to be directed and fed into a system to get the most out of all that hard work. It is the leaders’ job to ensure that systems are created which will aid current efforts, as well as facilitate future improvement.

Here are examples of the types of systems that could be instituted:

  • Guiding coalition
  • Steering team
  • Yearly budget process
  • Established priorities
  • War room
  • Leadership training
  • Standard work
  • Cross-training

These and other systems will help create a framework within which your employees can work. Such systems provide direction, define expectations, establish priorities, eliminate roadblocks, help monitor progress, and celebrate successes.

Deliberately designing systems for a specific purpose is important, but will not produce the desired results without someone there to sustain those systems. Just like with behaviors, systems also need to be disciplined. You, as the leader, are responsible for making sure the systems are followed faithfully. And just like with behaviors, the best way to do this is to know your employees and be aware of how they are utilizing the systems you’ve established. As you visit and work with them, you’ll be able to make any necessary course corrections to keep those systems in order. In my experience, once you’ve established the desired behaviors and systems, you’re freed-up to spend over 80% of your time looking for mentoring opportunities and future work for your teams.

Leaders are responsible for creating an environment in which both the employees and the company can reach their potential. Establishing intentional behaviors and systems, and then following them in a disciplined way, is how you accomplish these goals.

Real-world example

I’ve seen a lot of managers who like to stay in meetings all day, assuming all the work is getting done, and that the proper behaviors and systems are in place. Personally, I don’t know how to do that from an office. I have to be out among the employees, looking for the things I can do to create the right environment so that teams can be successful.

While in a consulting role at Orenco Systems, I was responsible for continuous improvement. One area for improvement that I focused on was getting all the groups within the organization to work together seamlessly on the top projects. This meant I had to model and promote behaviors that would encourage the desired level of collaboration. Each day, I made a deliberate decision to walk through the office and factory and check in with employees. I’d ask how things were going both at home and work, and then follow up on their efforts that I’d previously learned about. Whenever I heard of an obstacle they faced, I immediately worked with them on overcoming it. As they grew used to me coming by and learned that I would help them, they were open and honest with me about both successes and difficulties. This same sort of open communication is the behavior that the employees needed among and between their teams. I not only encouraged that behavior, I also demonstrated how simple it was to do it.

After spending about an hour walking around, I would come back to my desk and process everything I’d observed. It helped me to understand the tension and momentum the employees were feeling and led me to know what was needed next to keep things moving forward. I was able to design a system that would encourage the seamless collaboration we were working for.

I formed three teams which were designed to improve inter-group flow. These were a leadership development group, a guiding coalition, and a steering team. For the latter two teams, the existing culture wasn’t quite right, though they did have some early successes. The leadership development group, however, had significant success in getting all the employees to understand the value of collaboration. They learned to see how the diversity of their abilities and personalities could be a strength when pooled together. This group has since morphed into a mentoring program that focuses on developing the next generation of leaders. All we had to do was put a system in place and monitor its use.

This is a perfect example of how the intentional and disciplined establishment of both behaviors and systems can bring about progress and success in a business.

Kotter, John P. Leading Change. Harvard Business School Press, 2012.