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Using Recognition, Reinforcement and Rewards Published: Sunday, March 14, 1999 By: Ramón L. Rivera

More than ever organizations are in need of finding, hiring and keeping people who show pride in their work and loyalty toward the institution. We sometimes find in these same organizations that the core group of employees they currently have who do work hard and do show pride in their work, often do not exhibit loyalty toward the company and may even be openly hostile toward it. The fact is that well intended but wrong performance management strategies reduce employees to dissatisfied good performers with little commitment to the company or dissatisfied poor performers who do the minimum required to get by.

The problem here is not necessarily not having good performers, but management do not demonstrate that they do value those employees and their contributions. Poor behavior management affects even the performance of the best employee. It involves both doing nothing when performance is good and responding in a reactive rather than a proactive manner to poor performance.

It is the task of management to reinforce behavior that is aligned with the core values and objectives of the organization and to extinguish undesirable behavior. Behavior that a member does not have in his repertoire can be taught. In order to teach new behavior, first the behavior that approximates the goal behavior is reinforced. Next, gradually behavior is reinforced that is more and more near the wanted behavior. We call this process Shaping.

It however, often happens that managers only reinforce perfect behavior. This very much decreases the possibility that the wanted behavior will ever occur. Some managers don`t like shaping because they think that employees should attain certain standards and do not deserve being recognized for performance that is below the mark. "They get paid for it". Managers who think about it that way hinder learning, because they do not reinforce important progress in the direction of the standard.

Our heavy research in this arena fully reveals that in order to help people improve their performance (behavior) it is sensible to start reinforcing at the current level and then move slowly but certainly in the direction of the final goal.

In business, managers mostly focus on results instead of behaviors. Behaviors are part of the throughput of the process while results are outputs. When a manager demonstrates what the employee needs to do, an antecedent strategy is being used. An antecedent is something that prompts you to act a certain way. These would include policies, goals, directives, and announcements. All of these "set the stage"for a work behavior or performance to take place, but they do not guarantee that they will occur.

When a person is praised for the correct performance of the task, a consequence strategy is applied. A consequence that increases the possibility that a wanted behavior will occur more frequently in the future is called "Positive Reinforcement". For example: praise, giving attention, a job rotation, working on a project or a bonus could be positive reinforcements. Although people differ in preferences, we can speak of Positive Reinforcement when the rate of frequency of the behavior changes in a positive way. As the new behavior is learned, the use of reinforces can be more intermittent, but never stopped.

If we stop reinforcing behavior, extinction occurs. Extinction is the way to stop people wanting something. It is therefore, more effective than punishment. After punishment people stop doing something to avoid a negative consequence, but still might want it. Ignoring involves withholding social reinforcement and results in the extinction of behavior. Many performance problems are created not by what managers do but by what they don`t do.

Desired behavior in a work setting is increased if a person perceives a positive relationship between effort and performance. The behavior is further increased if there is a positive relationship between good performance and recognition. Recognition is mostly effective when it directly reinforces the desired behavior, is given as soon as possible after the desired behavior occurs, is delivered personally and publicly and is meaningful to the individual.

Our team has helped design hundreds of Rewards and Recognition Programs in different sorts of organizations. This extensive experimentation reveals that without adding positive reinforcement to their management style, it is not possible for managers to achieve the levels of performance they desire in their teams and organizations. The key to building a cohesive high morale/high performing team culture is to use daily social reinforcement for performance improvement, recognition for achieving sub-goals and rewards for achieving or surpassing goals.


Copyright 1999 QBS, Inc.
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