How To Stop Rewarding Employee Bad Behaviour

How To Stop Rewarding Employee Bad Behaviour


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Several weeks ago, we began a discussion on the behaviour of Explorers in the workplace, and how to encourage it. Explorers, as you may recall, are those folks who come to work each day energized and excited at the prospect of being part of something worthwhile and meaningful.

They are also the same people who deliver vast amounts of discretionary effort – effort beyond what is expected. They provide it without expectation of reward and without fear or concern of reprisal or recrimination for not delivering. It’s the secret sauce necessary to build and sustain great organizations.

We have discussed the roles of managers in encouraging Explorers and looked at the four different tiers and how they impact work performance.

Recognition is Key

We have also examined the importance of likability as an essential trait for success in management and the need to establish crystal-clear, negotiated and agreed upon expectations as the starting point from which great performance can spread.

Most recently we talked about the need to reinforce good behaviour. Providing recognition for a job well done goes a long way to increasing the probability that striving for excellence becomes the norm.

Good parents intuitively lavish praise on their children as they begin to learn new behaviours and continue the recognition as their offspring mature into adulthood. Similarly those with dogs in their households learn very quickly that good behaviour followed by a reward – treat/belly rub – is repeated far more often than good behaviour left unrecognized.

A wise teacher once told me that the only difference between raising children and managing people in the workplace is that people in the workplace are… Taller.

The Power of Positive Reinforcement 

She was not suggesting that we bring our childlike tendencies to work with us each day, but rather that adults respond to the same stimuli as children, i.e., praise has as powerful an impact on an adult as it does on child.

Positive reinforcement is a powerful agent for influencing behaviour, however it can also be fraught with risk for the uninformed or unaware manager.

The definition of positive reinforcement is that it gives us what we want and many managers – well-intentioned but naïve train people around them to deliver errant performance by positively reinforcing the very behaviours they would like to see disappear.

The common example is the manager who chooses to say nothing when a direct report steps outside of expectations. For example, the employee who is perpetually late for work.

Rather than rock the boat, the manager chooses to say nothing. Remember, the definition of positive reinforcement is to get what we want and when we are late, what we want is for our tardiness to be ignored.

In the absence of feedback to the contrary, everything – including silence – is regarded as positive reinforcement.

If You Reward Bad Employee Behaviour, It Will Get Repeated

By saying nothing, the manager is inadvertently and unknowingly rewarding this behaviour and, as we mentioned last week, what gets rewarded gets repeated.

This manager, by their silence, is now complicit in that person’s ongoing lateness.

We have all been guilty of this as silence is often the path of least resistance, and therefore easiest to follow. People treat us the way we train them to treat us and when we say nothing to that employee, we are training them to be late.

The day a manager begins to accept, at a deep and visceral level, that every action and every behaviour – both theirs and their employees – produces a consequence and that the consequence they introduce following an employees action or behaviour will mightily impact whether, and how, that behaviour is repeated, is that day that manager transcends from supervisor to leader.

And make no mistake about it, it is leaders, not supervisors, who create Explorers.

Till we read again.

Photo of Rael Kalley,Habits coach in calgary canada

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