Improving Management Style - Methods of Reinforcement


  • Author Kate Tammemagi
  • Published March 24, 2010
  • Word count 802

All effective Managers use good methods of reinforcement and use them effectively. It is impossible to train staff, motivate teams or achieve a high level of performance without them. Any manager can improve their management style by improving this aspect of their management skills.

Staff complain of lack of recognition, lack of encouragement, sometimes even the feeling that no one is even interested in what they do in the workplace. These factors are all major de-motivators and they lead to poor performance and lack of job satisfaction. Some of those who complain most loudly are Managers or Team Leaders themselves! They are often so busy talking about their bosses that they fail to see their own failings. If you are one of these Managers, break the mould and begin to improve your own management style, and you will soon reap the rewards!

Reinforcement Explained

Positive reinforcement is an action or behaviour which, when targeted at a specific attitude or behaviour, will result in repetition of that behaviour. A positive reinforcement can be as simple as someone saying 'Well done', or you receiving a bonus when you hit the target. If the action or behaviour does NOT result in repetition, then it was not reinforcement. For example, if a waiter asks you not to touch a hot plate, the result is generally that you will touch the plate! Asking someone NOT to do something does not work, and is actually a negative reinforcement.

How you use reinforcement is also equally important. In fact, B.F.Skinner, who did the initial research into reinforcement said - "The way positive reinforcement is carried out is more important than the amount." A bonus incentive is not always reinforcement, it will not always improve performance. If it does not work, it is not a reinforcement. Therefore, it becomes very important to establish WHAT to use as reinforcement and also HOW to use it effectively.

Verbal Praise

Verbal praise is one of the most effective methods of reinforcement. Verbal praise is not simply 'Well done'. It is more than that. It is making the praise personal and special for that person. Reinforcement has to have reward value. If it is something that you do all the time, it might be good but it has no reward value as a reinforcement. To have reward value it must be special, different, unexpected and something this person would value. For example, one person may value a private handshake, another would value a round of applause at a Team meeting.

A senior manager can be used effectively as a positive reinforcement. An email to one Team Member, the Manager visiting a desk and praising another, a visit to the Team meeting to congratulate the whole Team, all of these are positive reinforcement. Of course, the senior boss will rarely do this spontaneously! Some influencing and persuading is required, but generally they are happy to agree provided the praise is justified.

The key to the effectiveness of verbal praise is -

  1. It must be targeted at a specific action, behaviour or achievement. Remember, a vague, general statement is not a reinforcement

  2. It must be special and tailored to the individual. Don't do the same thing twice, vary what you will do

  3. The reward comes after the event. It is not an incentive that the person knows about, it is a surprise! Think of planned spontaneous recognition, plan what you will do, but make it look spontaneous!

  4. Look for good attitudes and behaviours to reinforce. If you don't look for them you will not see them! Plan to praise at least one person per day.

Other Methods of Reinforcement

To be effective, reinforcement must be very close in time to the action you want to reinforce. If the Team exceeds target this week, do something on the Friday. If a Team member demonstrates initiative today, praise her today or as soon as you possibly can.

Think simple, but special, for your reinforcement. Cream buns on Friday, ice cones, a cake you baked yourself or homemade lemonade, make it from you personally. For special occasions, a bottle of champagne at 10.30 am, or a catered finger food lunch in the local park can be really different. If you do any of these, do it only once! Never, repeat the reinforcement as the second time will not have reward value and it will reduce the value of the first occasion.

Learn about your Team members. Your goal is to observe each individual Team member to find reinforcers that will be special for that person, and what would be inappropriate. Football tickets may be the ultimate reward for one, and a new outfit for the baby may be the right reinforcement for another. Keep a list, and you will be ready to spring that special reward when needed.

Kate Tammemagi provides Leadership Coaching and Management Training for Managers at all levels.

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