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Participative Positive Reinforcement: The Untapped Profit in Employee Behavior

I have summarized some of the benefits of natural reinforcement--weaving reinforcing statements into regular work discussions. The last couple of blogs have been about how to integrate positive reinforcement into your company's culture with a planned initiative. As you review the distinctions I have made about my technique compared to traditional methods, keep in mind that I am presenting a method that ensures your management team uses positive reinforcement--this is not about rewards and recognition systems.

When I state below that traditional positive reinforcement practices do not link positive reinforcement to organizational performance, I am speaking specifically about verbal reinforcement, not awards and t-shirts. Reward and recognition services and products providers proclaim with much fanfare how rewards and recognition drives profitability. They assume, as do most readers, that positive reinforcement is being delivered in this melee of awards and cash incentives. It says something about how well external inducements incent people to contribute, but it says nothing about whether any manager or supervisor is positively reinforcing employee value-added behavior in real time--in the workplace--as it is happening.

The key issue is that rewards and recognition practices are leaving a lot on the table-- they do not provide a system that ensures supervisors and managers will deliver verbal positive reinforcement. That's where performance improvement has remained untapped--that is the missing link in total rewards practices. Even if their programs include some traditional reinforcement training, it does not engage supervisors and managers--if anything it drives them in the other direction.

When a supervisor says to an employee, "I see you tried some new material in your last presentation; how did they respond," that's reinforcement. No, he didn't say good job; no, the supervisor did not gush or wax poetic; he just noticed. How many people would love it if their boss noticed the extra effort they put into something? Suppose the boss gets mushy and says, "There were some clever ideas in your new PowerPoint." That is also positive reinforcement--real, natural, believable, fulfilling input from the boss.

That is why work dialogs--discussions between supervisor and employee are so important, because it presents so many opportunities for the supervisor to make observations like the one above--so many opportunities for real, genuine positive reinforcement. If you follow my implementation guide, you will prepare your company for participative reinforcement--relationships and discussions in which supervisors and employees can bring out the best in each other.

Below, I have listed some important distinctions between traditional reinforcement and the new world of participative reinforcement. Over the next few blogs, I will discuss the training, measurement and follow up that will make your organization the most reinforcing in your industry.

Traditional Reinforcement Training

  • Supervisor responsible for his or her improvement
  • Supervisor selects employee behavior to reinforce
  • Supervisor attempts to change his behaviorand the employee’s behavior
  • Positive reinforcement is a transaction, an event
  • Supervisor is uncomfortable with “changing his personality”
  • Employee is target of a tactic, technique applied “to” them
  • No direct means of measuring supervisor’s skill improvement
  • Positive reinforcement is not linked to organizational profitability
  • Positive reinforcement is positioned as a supervisory skill
  • Reinforcement often perceived as artificial, fake, and insincere
  • No means for specific feedback on reinforcement skills
  • Supervisor must improve without support group
  • Tangible recognition and reward items linked to the initiative
  • Initiative is perceived as “motivational” effort separate from organizational culture

Reinforcing Dialogs

  • Supervisor and employee share responsibility for initiatives success; the process is participative
  • Value-added behaviors are selected with input from employees
  • Employee and supervisor work together to change each other’s behavior; they exchange feedback
  • Positive reinforcement is part of a natural process--work discussion
  • Supervisors are comfortable with process because it is transparent; everybody knows the objective
  • Employee partners with supervisor to achieve success; from beginning to end, they work together
  • Both supervisor and employee work on self-development
  • There is a measurement system for directly tracking everyone’s progress; you know whether employees are receiving positive reinforcement
  • The positive reinforcement initiative is tracked simultaneously against key organizational performance indicators; when employees get reinforced, the data shows it
  • This is a team-driven process; Participative Positive Reinforcement©
  • Reinforcement is natural—an outgrowth of the discussion—a factual comment; no pushback from employees and supervisors because it is contrived
  • There is specific, quantitative feedback from both participants behavioral targets get tracked
  • Everybody involved—a public initiative with total involvement and support; the new vision is participative reinforcement