Behavior that is reinforced is behavior that is repeated.
Behavior rewarded is behavior that is repeated.
This simple, yet profound, concept is at the root of more poor productivity, broken relationships, negative personnel issues and high costs of doing business than any other management principle as well as peak performance organizations that grow and prosper each year.
What does the concept – you get the behavior you reward mean and what is the impact of it on your organization’s culture and overall performance?
Let me give you an example. You want an employee who is always late to be on time, but you don’t bring up his tardiness with him because it is only 10 minutes. So you wish and hope that the person would just get it – the policy is to be on time. But unfortunately, he doesn’t get your unspoken message and continues to be late. By not addressing this problem, you are sending the message that being late is acceptable behavior. It also sends a message to other employees who are on time, but might want to be late once in a while, that being late is OK.
There are two ways to reward behavior directly and indirectly. The above example is rewarding behavior indirectly – doing nothing. Here is an example of rewarding behavior directly. Let’s say you want your salespeople to spend more time on getting new business but your sales compensation program rewards sales volume only and not new account activity. DA, and you wonder why you have a problem?
There are thousands of ways that managers reward the behavior they don’t want, and then act surprised when they get more of it.
What behaviors are you rewarding in your organization that you need to change? One easy way to determine what these behaviors are is to look at the behavior and then determine why that person is acting in that way. If you don’t like the behavior, you need to change the reward system. I am not just talking here about financial rewards – but social, physical and so on.
If you are in a relationship and all you ever do is criticize the other person according to your standards, don’t be surprised if he/she stops communicating with you. If you nit-pik a person’s dress, attitudes, feelings, goals or thoughts to death, don’t be surprised if he/she doesn’t want to be around you. You get the behavior you reward.
The first step in changing behavior is to recognize the behavior that you would like changed. Next is to evaluate the reward system that is in place either indirectly or directly – why they are acting that way. Next, look at your own behavior and how you are contributing to the actions. This is not an easy task, but one that will pay handsome dividends in productivity, improved morale, improved communication and a better bottom line.