4 Ways to Harness the Power of Positive Reinforcement

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4 Ways to Harness the Power of Positive Reinforcement

by
August 14, 2012

I recently came across an article by Jennifer Dubow on Social Business Review where she offers up several great ways to help make sure that your changes are absorbed are don’t fall victim to the habits of old. Dubow is a firm believer of the power of positive reinforcement. “Humans respond to positive reinforcement, modeling of appropriate behaviors.” She believes that recognition and reward programs are excellent ways to reinforce changes you would like to see inside an organization. Now, I realize that this suggestion naturally brings up the counter argument of “Why should I reward this person for doing their job?” Dubow believes this attitude to be naïve and “illustrates a lack of understanding of human behavior and the way to change it.” Don’t believe her? A recent study conducted by Reena Ali and Shakil Ahmed provide some great insights into the power of reward and recognition programs. More on that another time, perhaps. Instead, let’s get down to brass tacks and look at four positive ways to help instill the changes you want inside your organization.

1. Say “Thank You”

Many employees relish in the opportunity to learn new skills or to see the business move in a different direction. However, for others change can be really tough. Taking the time to learn a new skill requires effort and brain power. It’s important to remember that different people learn new skills at different speeds, and as a result they may end up having to put in extra time on the job just to keep up. Change also can generate a substantial amount of fear. The combo of extra effort and/or fear can end up creating frustration and resentment for many.

By saying “Thank You” to the team for their extra work to learn a new skill/behavior/process is a power validation of their efforts and an equally effective reward and recognition tool. Say “Thank You” to those early adopters who helped their teammates learn a new tool. Say “Thank You” to those who may not enjoy the change, but are nonetheless willing to put in the effort to support the new direction. A little “Thank You” really does go a long way.

2. Document Success

Everyone deserves fifteen minutes of fame. One way to celebrate a team’s success is to document it. By communicating the benefits and achievements to the entire organization, it really helps showcase that the effort has been noted and that it’s appreciated. Success stories inspire others, and reinforce the desired behaviors to the employees’ peer group and beyond.

Dubow suggests several ways to promote success stories:

  • Internal articles on the company’s intranet
  • Internal blog
  • Video
  • Podcast
  • Town Hall meeting
  • Brown bag lunch

The options are limitless. Remember being famous for a day can be fun and rewarding for your employees.

3. Give out Meaningful Rewards

Employees are not one-size fits all, and as Dubow points out rewards shouldn’t be either. “When building a rewards program for your transformation effort, think about the various stakeholder groups you are targeting, what motivates them, what their psychographic profile are, and then brainstorm a few approaches.” Rewards don’t have to be fancy cash prizes. They can be as simple as an extra vacation day or a team dinner.

4. Create Public Displays of Recognition

Almost everyone likes to be recognized for the hard work they do. Some may be a little shy and prefer a private word of acknowledgement, but many of us feel particularly proud when recognized for our accomplishments in a public forum. Recognition comes in many forms. A powerful way to recognize an early adopter or an employee who achieved great results is a mention by an executive at an all hands meeting, staff meeting or other regularly held forum.

There ya have it. Four easy was to harness the power of positive reinforcement to make sure those changes you implemented stick with your employees.

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