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Two Employee Feedback Myths

Posted by Douglas A Wick on Mon, Oct 3, 2011

Usually during tough times managers get tough.  They succumb to the pressure and use more punishment and negative reinforcement.   Why is this a recipe for disaster? If both positive and negative reinforcement get results why should we care? 

Negative reinforcement provides incremental improvement.  That means you’ll get immediate improvement followed by a decrease, unless you continue to administer repeated negative reinforcement or punishment.  Look at the chart in this blog.

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Positive reinforcement is better for several reasons.  First people like positive reinforcement better.  It produces a less stressful workplace. 

Yet the most compelling reason, as we’ve discussed previously in this blog is “Positive reinforcement maximizes performance while negative reinforcement gets a level of performance that is just enough to bet by.”

When you get tough on your people you’ll almost always see the immediate spike in performance.  It’s easy to look at this short spike in improved performance, pat yourself on the back and think, “Getting tough on these people was really the answer!”  It’s myth to believe performance will continue to improve or even be maintained.  Unless you intend to continue this form of negative reinforcement, a tireless exhausting exercise, you will not see performance improvement in the long term.  In fact as soon as you abandon this form of negative reinforcement performance will drop often below previous levels.  Want to know if your business is using negative reinforcement?  Review this blog (Examples of Negative Reinforcement) for telltale signs.

Another Employee Feedback Myth is People Resist Change.  describe the imageThe truth is people don’t resist change if the change provides immediate positive consequences.

Example: “Hold it this way and you’ll be able to see it better.”  “Move your hand this way and you’ll be able to hit the ball straight.”  When these instructions result in positive consequences you have no difficulty getting people to accept change.  Only situations where the immediate consequences of change are punishing, or when the new behavior is not immediately reinforced do you run into trouble. 

The problem of course is that almost every new business initiative impacts our employees negatively at first.  Your people may understand that there are long-term benefits to the business and to the performer personally, however the immediate consequences of doing things differently are usually negative.  New behaviors require extra effort to learn, increase mistakes, cause performers to get behind in their other work, and create stress. People fear they won’t be able to learn or perform as well under new conditions.

What can you do?  Make change a positive experience.  Business needs to be less concerned with managing the change, and more attentive to managing the consequences associated with change.

We’ll explore managing consequences and rules of behavior in a future blog.  Next time what’s your role as the leader in employee feedback loop?   

Topics: Employee Feedback, employee performance, positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement

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The Strategic Discipline Blog focuses on midsize business owners with a ravenous appetite to improve his or her leadership skills and business results.

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