Encouraging Behavior That Gets Results

Dr. Purushothaman
October 7, 2013

You're the boss, and you have every reason to feel good about your organization.

You've built a great team.
You've put strong players in every spot.
You have clearly defined procedures for every part of the business.
You have incentive, safety recognition, and bonus programs.

But something doesn't seem quite right.

Somehow, there seems to be a sense of unease. You can't put your finger on it exactly, but you know it's there. It's what you wake up at 2 a.m. worrying about.

What are the symptoms?

Well, it's not that precise. It's the little things. Like, well, you spend too much time monitoring your workers - checking time sheets, correcting behavior problems, and dealing with attitude problems. People seem to be "doing their own thing" instead of being a part of a team.

Sound familiar?

It should, because getting optimal team performance is a common problem for business owners, from the largest corporation to the mom and pop business. Building a strong team provides the foundation for good performance, but that is only part of the process. As the manager, you need to encourage behaviors that create positive business results.

A powerful tool for encouraging these behaviors is the use of targeted positive reinforcement within a well defined performance management system. Much has been written about the use of positive reinforcement in recent years, but many managers and business owners still struggle with how to apply it appropriately. One reason many people do not hoped for results is a misunderstanding of how reinforcement strategies really work.

Much more than "pats on the back", "atta-boys", and "warm fuzzies", the effective use of positive reinforcement strategies in a structured performance management system relies on knowledge of your business systems, understanding the effect of specific employee behaviors on business results, and precisely targeted behavioral reinforcements.

Creating a strong performance management system starts with understanding why people do what they do.

One model of explaining human behavior says that an individual's behavior results from the consistent pairing of antecedents (situations or events just prior to our behaviors) and consequences (situations or events created by our behaviors).

For example, we enter a dark room and flip the light switch to "On". We do this because we expect light to be the result. Darkness is the antecedent. Light is the consequence. If we enter a room and consistently get no light by flipping the switch, we resort to some other behavior (light a candle, carry a flashlight, etc).

While this sounds simple enough in the example, in practice, it is often more difficult when we apply it in the workplace.

The key is to identify the behaviors that produce the desired business results; then create consequences for employees that will reinforce those behaviors. Any consequence that encourages a behavior to repeat is a positive reinforcement.

But there is a subtlety that is very important. We can encourage behaviors, but we cannot enforce them. Many companies try to enforce appropriate behaviors rather than encourage them.

Enforcing requires a high degree of supervisory input and nets only minimal standard performance from employees, but encouraging requires minimal supervisory input once the system is in place, and it usually results in superior performance.

One way to achieve a consistent pairing of results (consequences) and behaviors is accomplished through a targeted improvement process much like the processes advocated by ISO, QS, and TQM management systems. The steps in this process are:

- Identify the behaviors that create the desired results

- Measure the results of the behaviors

- Provide feedback to employees

- Positively reinforce the effective behaviors

- Evaluate the choice of behaviors and measurements - iterate to improve selection

As business people, we should all know that human behavior drives business results. Our daily behaviors create the results that either help or hurt our businesses. Learning to encourage behaviors that grow the business can make the difference between success and failure.

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