We have all been in a situation where we have been praised for our behavior, most likely in our personal life from our parents or teachers. Do you remember how it made you feel? Did it make you feel proud and valued? It probably boosted your confidence and raised your spirits. At its core, this is what positive reinforcement is all about.
Positive reinforcement is operant conditioning that introduces a positive or strengthening stimulus following desired behavior, encouraging repetition. For example, giving a child a treat if they clean their room and keep it clean will encourage them to keep it clean in the future. It is also a common training technique in the training of animals, like giving a dog a treat when they perform tricks. But how does this add value to you and your business?
Operant conditioning, or instrumental conditioning, originated in the ’30s by the American psychologist, behaviorist, and philosopher B.F. Skinner. He said, “What is love except for another name for the use of positive reinforcement? Or vice versa.”
There are four main types of reinforcement and are, positive reinforcement (praise and reward), negative reinforcement (reprimanding), punishment (removing reward, or things like detention in school), extinction (removing or taking away, like taking a teenager’s cell phone away).
The Effectiveness of Positive Reinforcement
When executed well, positive reinforcement can have an amazing impact. It is most effective when it takes place immediately after a behavior and with enthusiasm. It is also essential to be consistent and offered frequently. So, what kinds of reinforcement are there?
- Natural reinforcers – These are “automatically” linked to behaviors and are pretty straightforward. For example, if you study hard and pay attention, you’ll get good grades. If your sales team is on commission, a sale will equal more money in their paycheck.
- Social reinforcers – Usually, these are expressions of approval. For example, teachers, parents, or employers say “Good job” or “Excellent work.” These are most effective in the public domain.
- Tangible reinforcers – These are physical rewards linked to performance and behavior, such as bonuses, gifts and prizes, and other treats. These are powerful motivators but should be used sparingly.
- Token reinforcers – As the name suggests, these are in the form of tokens that can be redeemed for other items of value. These are common in elementary schools. We all remember the gold stars our second-grade teacher used to hand out, but they may not represent real-world value as we get older.
While offering reinforcement immediately is very important, there is also value in a presentation scheduled to offer additional reinforcement in a group setting. This will create a social environment for acknowledgment and influence how often responses occur and how strongly.
Positive reinforcement can add massive benefits in the workplace. It goes a long way towards fostering a positive workplace culture that will increase staff happiness and productivity, but there are other benefits. We spend a significant amount of time at work, about a third of our lives actually. Creating a place where your team feels comfortable and happy will also mean that your turnover rate will drop. Having to hire and train new employees is an often overlooked cost.
Still, it adds up to large financial losses and losses in productivity. Positive reinforcement also encourages inclusions and problem-solving skills. Teams aren’t punished for making mistakes and are more inclined to develop creative solutions. Remember that happy employees will make it known how happy they are and how much they are appreciated. Businesses want to work with, and employees want to work for, positive businesses in today’s world.
The effectiveness of your reinforcement lies with your leadership team. They will embody and emphasize the meaningfulness of the daily work. The reinforcement they offer should be focused on things like autonomy (giving credit to teams for contributions and celebrating their successes) and the importance of tasks. Jim Rohn summarized it nicely when he said, “Managers help people see themselves as they are; Leaders help people to see themselves better than they are.”
Here are a few take-aways:
- Positive reinforcement will always often in an increased behavioral outcome.
- Positive reinforcement has to be applied correctly and effectively
- Positive reinforcement and leadership techniques are intrinsically connected
- Positive reinforcement should be individualized to the recipient
- Never Assume that employees feel valued or appreciated
Positive reinforcement is never a guarantee of success, but you’ve built your business on making tough choices and taking risks. You can be confident that many entrepreneurs before you have tried it with tremendous rewards. Today, many more CEOs and business owners are choosing positivity and empathy over the dated management styles of before. I always like to think back to the carrot and the stick analogy. Remember that the reward is the motivator in that scenario. It would be just as effective without the stick.