When you go to work or do anything, at the end of the day, you will have an opinion on how everything went.
Will you want to carry on the next day?
Perhaps, without even realising it, you will assess the variety of ‘consequences’ you gained during the day.
Depending on whether these are good or bad will colour your judgement on the days events.
The existence of consequences mean that all behaviour can be explained and controlled as a function of the consequences to the individual.
This can be approached in a scientific manner as the effects are perfectly measurable.
This type of performance management is also know as ‘behaviour modification’.
When we look at the effect of a consequence on behaviour it will either make it go faster or make it occur more often.
That is, the consequence will have an effect on the ‘rate’ and ‘frequency’ of the behaviour.
A consequence can have 4 different effects on behaviour.
There are two that can increase it and two that can reduce it.
Positive and negative reinforcement may sound a little confusing.
They could be defined as:
This is something you would like get or happen.
This is when you manage to avoid something that you don’t want to get or happen.
For punishment and penalty we have:
You gain something you would rather not have.
This is when you lose something you already had.
Whenever we do anything and we like it there is a tendency to do it again.
Note, that when using an ‘antecedent’ (see Model Behaviour) you will only set the scene for a particular behaviour to occur.
Once that behaviour has been carried out there is absolutely no guarantee that it will be carried out again.
Far from it. If a person dislikes the task he or she will be not be inclined to repeat the exercise.
It is only the consequence of an action that will make him or her repeat the action.
Of course, the consequences can be such that it is in the individual’s best interest to repeat the action.
We know that the fear of punishment, penalty or negative reinforcement above will make someone carry out a behaviour.
However, they will only achieve the minimum required to prevent themselves from getting the punishment, penalty or negative reinforcement.
Once this has happened they will tend to stop.
What we are looking for is continued improvement in performance such that individuals will be willing to over achieve and not do just enough.
This can only be achieved with positive reinforcement.
When any one goes through a day they will encounter literally hundreds of antecedents, behaviours and consequences.
Most of these you would never think about they just ‘happen’.
When you turn the key in the ignition the car starts.
When you pull on the car door handle it opens etc.
These are not governed by interactions with other people.
As we interact with people we may get a mixed bag of consequences to your behaviours.
You look at one person and they smile or say, “Good morning.”
Another may grunt, or hand you a packet of work or ignore you altogether.
It’s easy to begin spotting the different types in this manner once you realise what you are looking for.
Note straight away that if you reinforce a behaviour it does not mean that the behaviour is good or that the performance is good.
If you are reinforcing a behaviour it just means that you are encouraging that particular behaviour.
Either it is being performed at an increased rate or it is being performed more frequently.
In other words, you could be reinforcing bad behaviours by the consequences you are providing.
Motivation can lead to good or bad behaviours.
So how can you tell which activities in any organisation are being reinforced?
The answer is blindingly easy.
They ALL are.
The very fact that individuals are performing particular tasks means that people are happy to do them as they enjoy the consequences in some fashion.
The question is are they carrying out behaviours that you want them to?
In theory the solutions are then easy.
We just need to identify consequences that will stop the poor behaviours and consequences that will promote the good behaviours.
That is, we must identify what is required to motivate people to exhibit the proper behaviours.
This should be part of the natural practice of project management (see The Complete Project Management package) where having identified company objectives the manager should be aware of the behaviours that are required and design consequences to achieve them.
Motivation is not often on the agenda.
Positive reinforcement entices a behaviour by what you will gain as a consequence whilst the negative lures the person into a particular behaviour with what they will avoid.
These differences have a tremendous impact on how the individual will tackle the behaviour.
In the negative situation a person will tend to maintain their behavioural performance until they have avoided what they don’t want.
At this point performance will either stop or reduce significantly as there is no incentive to carry on.
That is, they will do just enough.
In the case of positive reinforcement, performance is often in excess of what is required.
A particular consequence may be able to elicit either performances.
We all know that a consequence of a poor behaviour could be anger from the boss.
For some people this could act to improve their behaviour, that is improves motivation.
For another it could make matters worse and hence de-motivate.
Just by thinking a consequence will help a situation doesn’t make it so.