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Consequences part 2

Letting sleeping dogs lie

Why do we bother to recognise good performance?
After all people are paid for doing a job aren’t they? So good performance is expected.

Many managers do precisely this. They expect good performance and demand it.
A person produces a great performance by consistently demonstrating good behaviour and what consequence do they see for it.
Mostly zero.

If a manager provides no consequences he is in fact removing positive reinforcement.
This is known as extinction.
This may actually encourage poor behaviour due to a lack of appreciation.

This can be most transparent when you are working with a group of people and a few are poor performers.
It’s easy to focus on the poor performers and to ignore the rest.
The others lose motivation.

This approach can create long term issues and reduce overall performance.
It’s all about getting the correct balance so that all persons gain appropriate consequences.

Short term and long term

If a consequence either has a low probability of occurrence or will not materialise for a long period of time its impact is greatly reduced.
This is evident in all sorts of areas.
For instance, we may know that eating a lot of chocolate may have long term issues for our heart but very few people would take it seriously enough to stop eating when there is the immediate pleasure of eating it.

A far more worrying situation can be found when young people are told that taking a particular drug could kill them the first time they take it.
However, being young and invincible, seeing the threat as highly improbable they may go ahead anyway with in some cases disastrous results.

There is a perception of uncertainty associated with the consequences, which may render it ineffective in trying to produce the correct behaviour.
As it is a future event it may change or may not even occur.

Many incentive schemes fall into this category and will not improve motivation on a daily basis.
Project management uncertainty is slightly different subject (see The Complete Project Management package and The Complete Risk Management package).

Basically, any consequence that is immediate will have a greater chance of success in terms of promoting the correct behaviour.
Change management (see The Complete Leadership package), can benefit from this approach.


How many times have you thought that you knew what an individual wanted?
Armed with this information you dangle the prize like a carrot to encourage continued behaviour.
You find it doesn’t work and you are surprised.
It must work because it would have worked for you.

This is the point. A consequence is only relevant to the person concerned and not to you.
Anything that makes the individual either repeat an action or do it faster is a positive reinforcer to that individual, no matter what you think.

As well as being significant to the individual, and a positive experience it must be received in a timely manner.
The nearer the consequence is to the behaviour the more affect it will have on that behaviour.

This is common sense as promises of rewards (see Reward Systems – part 1) in the future may be in doubt.

A simple example can be seen with a crying child. If the child craves attention and you provide it it is quite likely the activity will be repeated.
Clearly, some judgement is required. If the child is hurt you would expect to provide attention.
What you do not want to do is to provide the positive reinforcement that maintains the unwanted behaviour.

The more often you can apply positive reinforcement the better will be the behavioural performance.
This is one good reason to split tasks into smaller steps.
This provides the opportunity for recognition at the successful completion of each step.

Negative approach

As we mentioned above the use of punishment, penalty or negative reinforcement can lead to issues of performing just adequately.
There are other areas to consider.

If you are always managing using negative methods people will always be wary of what is about to happen to them if they fail in any way. This apprehension will foster a lack of confidence and may reduce performance in its own right. This can have serious affects where safety is concerned. Problems may well be hidden, until its too late, on the basis that the person thought they could resolve them before they were found out.

Also, quite naturally, people don’t like negative aspects of management. This can cause minor dissatisfaction at best or violent aggression at worst. This may manifest itself in physical aggression or work disruption and sabotage.

Reduced motivation may result.

Too good at the job

I’m sure everyone has come across this problem.
You naturally take pride in your work so you try your hardest and give your best in everything that you do.
Even the terrible jobs.

What happens? You get the poor jobs again and again.
Even more annoyingly, the person who shows that they are useless at that job are never asked to do it again.
If you want something doing well, give it to person ‘A’.

The trouble with this approach is that you begin to overload person ‘A’, whose performance will eventually drop off, while the performance of others continues to fall.

The result is lower motivation of person ‘A’.

In the case of some poor performers the very act of taking action may be a positive reinforcer (gaining attention) to that individual, in effect encouraging them to repeat the offence.

Sources of reinforcement

There are many opportunities for giving and obtaining reinforcement.

Many derive from the nature of the behaviour itself.
For managers and the workforce this is job you do.
You can get positive reinforcement from:

  • Measuring your achievements, for example, graphically looking at numbers of errors, completion on time etc
  • Recognition by people around you. For example, a ‘well done’ from co-workers, positive feedback and thanks from customers etc.
  • From managers giving you positive comments on your performance

Unfortunately, many jobs can be seen as monotonous where recognition is few and far between.
Performance can easily drop in these circumstances. Even so, try to recognise that behaviours need to be modified and it is little to do with the character of the individual. Any change in performance behaviour must be positively reinforced continuously otherwise the increase in performance will eventually return to previous values.


It’s not only people working for you that need reinforcement so do you.
However, your performance relies entirely on the activities of your staff; if they fail you fail.

You don’t need to master psychology just recognise behaviour improvements with positive reinforcement.

You are employing peoples’ behaviours not their souls or their attitudes or values.

People choose from available alternative behaviours which they believe to be perfectly logical at the time.
This action may appear to be illogical at another date or to another who has, with experience, better alternative behaviours.