Employee Behavior

By Alan Gehringer

dateTue, Aug 13, 2013 @ 03:01 PM

Are your employees consistently demonstrating the behaviors necessary to accomplish the company's goals?

I just finished reading Aubrey Daniels book titled “OOPS!”.  Aubrey is an authority on applying scientifically proven laws of human behavior to the workplace.  In the first chapter of his book,Aubrey Daniels OOPS! he writes "the only way an organization’s outcomes are accomplished is through employee behavior."  To execute your companies’ 3-5 year business plan, you must encourage the right behavior from your employees.  Unfortunately, all too often, we encourage the wrong behavior through our actions or management style.  I thought some of the highlights were worth sharing as they hit home with me.

There are two types of human behavior, rule governed and contingency shaped. With rule governed behavior a person learns indirectly by reading or observing.  Conversely, with contingency shaped behavior, a person learns from direct experience and the consequences of their actions.  Most adults learn through a combination of rules and contingencies. 

So how do we reinforce the right behavior?  According to Daniels “behavior is a function of its consequences.”  Here are a few thoughts on how consequences affect behavior: 

  1. Positive and negative consequences can be used to increase or decrease existing behaviors.
  2. Positive and negative consequences can be used to teach new behaviors.
  3. Positive reinforcement produces higher rates of behavior than negative reinforcement.
  4. A small immediate consequence has more impact on behavior than a large, future consequence.
  5. Behavior that occurs without reinforcement is weakend and will eventually stop.
  6. Punishment and penalty consequences can be used to stop existing behaviors. 
  7. Behavior that is stopped by punishment and penalty will reoccur when the threat of punishment or penalty is removed or remote.

So, what can we take away from these thoughts? It is preferable to use positive reinforcement as your primary tool, and to do so as frequently as possible, whenever appropriate and merited. 

Here are four tips Aubrey gives us to make positive reinforcement work:

  1. Make it personal to the individual, something that motivates or is important to him or her.
  2. Make it contingent on whether the individual earned it.
  3. Make it immediate so the individual knows what behavior he or she is being rewarded for.
  4. Make it frequent so the behavior becomes a habit.

A final thought: our natural tendency is to manage by negative reinforcement, constantly pointing out what was not done or could be improved.  Intellectually, we all know we feel better when someone points out our good behaviors and accomplishments, but we have the notion that pointing out the areas that need improvement is the only way to help an individual improve.  That can be true in some cases, but should not be the only way we give feedback.  Sometimes we need to let good enough be and find the positive in the contribution to encourage even better performance in the future.  Most of us wear the critical parent hat far too often, me included! I encourage us to change hats and spend more time wearing the nurturing hat.  Remember the old saying, you catch more flies with honey.  Give some thought to how you are interacting with your employees and counterparts, and ask yourself if you are getting the best possible outcome.  After that, try using positive reinforcement to get the results you are looking for. 

If you like what you read, consider picking up a copy of OOPS! to gain an in-depth understanding of the 13 practices, systems, and procedures designed to improve workplace behavior.  Best wishes in your quest to manage better behavior and results.

Learn to build focus, alignment and accountability; read Execute Without Drama by Patrick Thean 

Alan Gehringer


Photo Credit: iStock by Getty Images