Mon, May 14, 2012
In every organizational survey that I have conducted over the past 25 years, the issue of inadequate recognition has appeared near the top of the list. Fundamentally, we all want to be acknowledged for the contributions that we make to our organizations. When our efforts and accomplishment are overlooked, we simply don’t feel as motivated to deliver high levels of discretionary effort in the future.
There is perhaps no more well supported finding in all of psychology than the impact of positive reinforcement on behavior. Specifically, when behavior is reinforced through praise that behavior is more likely to occur in the future, and, critically, to occur unprompted. In other words, behavior reinforced today becomes initiative tomorrow. I know of no other strategy in all of management that yields a higher return on investment. In my estimate, the ROI is 1:100. In other words, for every minute spent on reinforcing behavior, you can expect a hundred minutes of initiative in return.
What Do We Mean by Positive Reinforcement?
Be clear, I am not talking about traditional reward and recognition programs that seek to reinforce only a small subset of high performers. In fact, it is exactly these kinds of programs that lead to the majority of employees feeling ignored and unappreciated. If you want to decrease the overall morale of your workforce, go ahead and implement an Employee of the Month program. And, if your goal is to significantly reduce the productivity of your team members implement a program tied to gifts or financial incentives.
Rather, when I speak of positive reinforcement I am referring primarily to verbal or written praise — something as simple as a heartfelt “thank you” that recognizes and acknowledges others for their contributions. There are actually very specific ways in which to maximize your reinforcement effort to improve employee engagement. Specifically, praise should be given:
Why Do We Often Fail to Recognize Desirable Behavior?
From an evolutionary perspective, we are not wired to pay attention to what is working; we are wired to pay attention to pay attention to what is not working. If you walk into your organization and see that nine employees are at their desks and one missing, whom do you pay attention to? The one who is missing. The problem is that you will never get the behavior that you want by focusing on the behavior you don’t want. It just doesn’t work that way.
What Happens When We Ignore Desirable Behavior?
When we ask someone to engage in a particular behavior, and they do, and, we say nothing, it becomes less likely to occur again. Imagine that your boss asks you to stay late to finish a project. You do so and he says nothing to you. Would you be more or less motivated to do so again
Can Technology Help?
Organizations finally seem to be catching on that saying “thank you” is far more economical and powerful, than using traditional reward and recognition programs. Unfortunately, most organizations are not prepared to effectively train their supervisors and managers in delivering powerful praise.
There are software tools that can help, such as the one offered by Kudos. This platform, in particular, allows remote employees who are even easier to ignore to receive powerful praise. Team members may also recognize and acknowledge one another. (Monster Thinking readers may double the free trial period by entering coupon code: RESPECT.)
If you care about increasing the morale and productivity of your entire workforce, forget about traditional reward and recognition programs and try giving a good old-fashioned “thank you.”
Are employees at your organization sufficiently recognized and acknowledged for the contributions you make to your organization?