What if I told you that there was an empirically validated tool which gives managers the capacity to improve employee performance and discretionary effort while simultaneously reducing their stress and improving their creativity? Let me sweeten the deal by telling you that this tool does not require a budget and you don’t need permission to adopt it.
The “silver bullet” of management science that I am referencing is called positive reinforcement and understanding how it works is a game changer for anyone interested in improving productivity and reducing stress in the workplace. Positive reinforcement is a continuous communication process between a manager and employee in which the manager recognizes desirable changes in employee behaviors and, by doing so, strengthens the desirable behaviors. The key to positive reinforcement is that it needs to be a daily affair and, if done correctly with precision, it will have much more impact on performance than low frequency tools like annual performance appraisals. It is effective for exactly the same reason that video games are so compelling- and addictive- ie gamers are getting a high dose (65-85 per minute) of positive reinforcers. This explains why a child who is called hyperactive and can’t sit still in the classroom – where they are receiving a woefully inadequate rate of reinforcement- can focus and play computer games, with total concentration, for hours. In business, measurement is frequently used to identify performers who aren’t meeting expectations, whereas positive reinforcement is used to engage employees and enable them to do better.
So what’s the catch? It’s simple: for social (i.e interpersonal) forms of positive reinforcement to be effective you must first have good relationships with people. To establish yourself as a positive reinforcer your presence must be associated, in the employee's mind, with positive comments. They must see you as someone primarily focused on helping them do their jobs better. This technique does not require you to ignore poor performance, however, to be effective it is important that your interactions are predominantly positive.
If you are interested in understanding the science behind positive reinforcement and mastering the techniques check out "Bringing Out The Best In People" by Aubrey C. Daniels. He is the real deal and the book is a gem. I would love to hear what you think about it.