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Positive Reinforcement is a Skill

If you read the available management literature, you soon run into a mandate that is seldom questioned: Praise your employees often; give them a “thank you” when they do a good job; recognize their efforts; use verbal positive reinforcement for value added behavior.Supervisors and managers are told unequivocally, that this is the best way to increase performance, enhance supervisory-employee relations, create employee engagement, and increase retention—to name a few.

Why then do climate surveys and 360° surveys consistently uncover contradictory evidence? Why do surveyed employees working in companies with formal and informal recognition systems feel they are not being “recognized” for their efforts?Survey data is inconsistent, but results (by reputable sources) report “78% of the employees surveyed said they had not been recognized by their supervisor for their work,” and “52% or the turnover in business and industry is related to supervisory-employee discord,” (irrespective of what exit interviews say.)

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Positive Supervision

Learning how to change or influence the behavior of others is simple in theory, but in the devil, as usual, is in the details.The books tell you to praise employees for good work.Sometimes they don’t like it because they either think you are faking it to make them work harder or they are uncomfortable because it is out of character for you.

You can be successful in establishing a more positive relationship with your direct reports if you read the series that begins below:

Positive reinforcement works; it fulfills every employee’s basic need to feel valued—cared about by the organization, their supervisor and leadership. Positive reinforcement is precision recognition—it acknowledges the employees contribution in real time; it captures the moment when a valued added behavior—discretionary effort can be encouraged or discouraged.

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Leadership Mistakes to Avoid

Always try to say positive things about your direct reports when you are going to ask them to do something extra, or something onerous that no one else wants to do. You have to set them up right or they may try to back out.

If they are not performing well and it looks like you’re going to have to fire them, try not to make them suspicious. You don’t want to imply that they need to change their work behavior; that would make them sad.

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You Can Change Behavior and Leave Personalities Intact

Recently I’ve reached a personal “tipping point,” in regard to understanding human organizational behavior. Possibly, others have had a similar learning experience.At one time, I believed that I understood everything; I was patently certain that I could explain everything with a few basic precepts.

Time and experience eroded my self-confidence; the principles and practice of one discipline solved many problems, but left many unsolved. I started looking at other theories and disciplines—finding intriguing explanations for why people do the things they do. Unfortunately, the more I read the more confused I became. It was not unlike my experiences in reading philosophy (a fleeting experience I admit); I found something of value in every school of thought.

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