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The Context for Effective Positive Reinforcement

The positive reinforcement bandwagon is galloping through American business and industry. America is riding on a wave of rewards, recognition, motivation, incentives, and contingent compensation—a distinctly humanistic cultural phenomenon. Not too many years ago, many of these same organizational environments were punitive and indifferent to employee satisfaction and emotional well-being.

In recent blogs, I have emphasized that verbal positive reinforcement—the delivery of positive feedback and information to employees about their day-to-day performance—should be delivered naturally within the context of work discussions. Research data has demonstrated that when supervisors frequently talk with employees about safety, the employees job performance increases as well.

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How to Effectively Positively Reinforce Employees

For a manager or supervisor to effectively positively reinforce an employee, there must be a pre-existing positive relationship. A supervisor cannot approach an employee with whom they have had innumerable negative interactions and credibly say something positive about the employee’s performance. Suspicion, distrust, and disassociation prevent a positive comment from having the desired effect.

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Why Attempts to Positively Reinforce Employees Can Fail

Shocked? How can the gospel according to your trainers, consultants, and incentive houses--be wrong? This is an outrage! Everybody knows that positive reinforcement works, that’s why American corporations spend several billion dollars a year on trophies, plaques, awards, cups, t-shirts, hats and pizza dinners—to positively reinforce, recognize, reward, celebrate, honor, and praise employees who outperform their peers.

That’s why millions of people Google phrases like, “best way positively reinforce employee,” or “how to recognize employees,” or “how recognize supervisor,” and so forth. Of course it works…everybody knows it works. Well I say it does not work—not in the way that it is being applied by thousands of companies world wide—not in the way it is being taught in books, workshops, and seminars.

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How the Grinch Learned to Use Positive Reinforcement

The header on this post brought someone to mind immediately, didn’t it? Not a bad guy…he has probably been a faithful employee…has his (or her) good days and bad days. Sometimes you steer clear of him; maybe he is not only unpredictable, but quirky…not in a—hah-hah! -- kind of way, but in a tension-inducing kind of way.

Maybe the header reminded you of you; you’re great employee, well motivated, hard worker, know your job and how things work in your department better than anyone. Then, you got promoted you to a supervisor or a manager and you started feeling kind-of uncomfortable. When you did the work yourself, you were self-assured, confident; now you have to get things done through others—manage—and it’s a whole different ball game.

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