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Reinforcing Work Dialogs the Key to Engagement

A meta-analysis of survey results from America and Europe reveals that about 30% of all employees are actively “engaged” with their companies. The engaged employees are the ones who provide the discretionary effort. The “disengaged,” are doing their jobs, but often just that—doing their jobs.

A Hay Group study found that engaged office workers were up to 43% more productive and that companies with high engagement scores were much more profitable. Key drivers of engagement of interest to anyone who has been reading my blogs are listed below. They are interesting, because they can be accomplished directly and indirectly through reinforcing work dialogs: 

  • Employee perceptions of job importance
  • Regular feedback and dialog with superiors
  • Quality of working relationships with peers, superiors, and subordinates
  • Effective internal employee communication
  • Employee clarity of job expectations

Two engagement drivers—“inspirational leadership,” and “opportunities for advancement,” are important, but they cannot be immediately influenced in real-time—today, by supervisor and managers on-the-floor, on the front lines--something that reinforcing dialogs can do. 

Rewards and Recognition practices are often linked to employee engagement, but there is credible evidence that various forms of recognition are eschewed if certain key organizational elements are not in place. In other words, if the organization has the above important ingredients for engagement, rewards and recognition practices are icing on the cake; if you are hoping that rewards and recognition strategies will compensate for missing engagement drivers—you are going to be disappointed. 

No one reading this blog would leave a company where they had a wonderful boss to go to work for a company where their supervisor was negative, but where they could receive plenty of awards and kudos from the company for doing good work. Sometimes, even big raises with bonuses will not move us away from a good boss. Many of us have sold our souls to the devil before—went for the money—and suffered the consequences of being treated like chattel.

There is just no way around the truth; you can dissemble and recalculate and rationalize and equivocate, but in the end “the truth will out.” A boss who has an “engaging” manner—one who can create a “reinforcing” relationship with his or her employees is the deal maker or the deal breaker. Additionally, having frequent, meaningful give and take discussions with your employees about the work and their performance satisfies all but two of the key drivers. One key objective of developing “reinforcing work dialogs” is to gradual build (often rebuild) the relationship between bosses and their subordinates.

Positive reinforcement is the key to engagement. When adapted properly (as in reinforcement dialogs), it enables most of the engagement drivers, plus it facilitates a positive relationship with one's supervisor--one of the more important drivers. In contrast, traditionally delivered positive reinforcement--the occasionally delivered significantly solitary gratuitous comment-- does more harm than good. It creates a barrier to honesty, trust and the genuine partnering that is in the best interest of the company.

The 5 Step Self-Development Model we have been discussing provides a perfect medium for a supervisor, manager, or leader to incrementally master reinforcing work dialogs. Or if you are lucky, your company is implementing a structured, systematic initiative to develop their entire management team’s ability to have reinforcing work dialogs. These steps are distributed throughout my blogs, but when embedded in a Participative Positive Reinforcement© (PPR) initiative they look as follows:

1. Survey and Assess

  1. Evaluate your management team for interaction skills and leadership practices.
  2. Create baseline data for key performance variables to track success and ROI.
  3. Launch your development effort with high levels of employee communication and interactive task group meetings to develop key dialog points for daily discussion.
  4. Create a list of key points to be covered in Step 2 of the process—the beginning dialogs.
  5. Select one person from each work group or department to collect associate responses to the process—what they like and think has value.

2. Training and Practice

  1. Management team attends orientation and skills training class.
  2. Begin having performance dialogs, limiting the discussion time and topics
  3. Focus on technical aspects of the work. Limit discussions to equipment, process, and safety conditions. Stay away from comments about the employee’s performance.
  4. After two weeks, meet with employee group leaders to discuss pros and cons. List what was useful and worked well. What helped them? How well did the supervisors do in terms of interpersonal style?
  5. Share feedback with everyone and adjust the discussions points if necessary.

3. Begin Positive Reinforcement

  1. Supervisors start providing brief comments about things the employees have done that make a difference—that add value. Do not use language that resembles evaluations; provide positive descriptions of what they did and the outcome. “That new way of exchanging the filter saves us a lot of time.” “Reviewing that report before we send it to IT has decreased the turnaround time.”
  2. Start collecting good stories about successes to share—stories about how the new working relationship is leading to good things.

4. Evaluate and Adjust Process

  1. Encourage employees to verbalize positive outcomes—benefits that the increased contact with the supervisor has created; what good things are coming out of this?
  2. Bring together employees and supervisors to work on intra-departmental problems. Have a facilitator present.
  3. Create cross functional groups—supervisors and employees from different departments can get together and work on problems and opportunities that span all departments.
  4. At this point, the supervisory/employee relationship should be strong; there should be a good level of trust and positive feelings. The supervisor can start to tactfully present opportunities for improvement in the employee’s performance. They should be discussed as impersonally as possible: “I think if you do this first, it will decrease the job time.” Not, “If you’d start doing this I think you could get it done faster.” Or, “I think you’re doing it wrong and that’s what’s eating up your time.”
  5. The key to successful corrective feedback is the ratio. Make sure there are plenty of positives before you start making improvement suggestions.
  6. Employee feedback on the process will provide you with information that will tell you how they perceive your efforts.
  7. Continue to track key performance variables.

5. Find Your Comfort Level

  1. Some supervisors are now prepared to provide more personal positive reinforcement statements that will be well received. Showing some enthusiasm in making statements about what an employee has done and the positive outcome is probably going to have the desired effect.
  2. Continue to stay away from evaluative, first person statements that implies a status differential instead of a partnership. “I really like what you did on that report. You’re really improved the clarity. Good work.” More desirable, "Everyone said that the change you made to the report has increased its clarity."
  3. Continue to steer clear of statements that imply evaluations, assessment.
  4. Use positive reinforcement coaching skills learned in training class as the employee when ready.