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Major reinforcement

There are many types of positive reinforcement but if you had to choose only one then pick feedback.
This is by far the most important aspect of reinforcing behaviour.

A high percentage of behavioural failure is down to a lack of feedback on performance.
No feedback will ultimately lead to a drop in motivation.

It must be right?

It may be thought that if people are not doing things correctly the work force must somehow know about this and decide to do nothing about it. It can be quite the opposite.
Because no one tells them its wrong they make the natural assumption that what they are doing is right and always has been.
They are often surprised to find anything is wrong and are amazed that no one has raised the issue in the past.

In addition, without supporting data it is very common to believe that you are performing at a particular level when in fact you are not.
If you have an acceptable failure rate of, say, 3%, you may tell everyone that this is your aim. Without any feedback based upon data people will happily think they are performing at that level unless told otherwise.

What individuals will do every time they find a product failure is make the assumption that it is part of the 3%.
In this situation you will need to audit performance to show the real situation.
Even better, set up self feedback systems so that workers can measure their own performance and report back.

Performance level

On occasion a worker may be well aware of the standard of their performance.
They may know they are only working at, say 70%.
However, they believe that everyone is working at this rate and so are quite happy to leave well alone.


There are three basic forms of feedback which are distinguished by the manner of their delivery.
These are neutral, positive and negative.

Neutral feedback is probably the polite way to raise an issue.
It is usual to begin your question with phrase like,
“Do you know..?”
“Are you aware…?”
“You may not realise it…?”

For example, if you are having a problem with someone maintaining a tidy desk you might say:

“Do you know that you desk untidiness is affecting your efficiency?”
“Are you aware that if you improved your desk tidiness you would be able to find documents faster?”
“You may not realise it but if your desk was a little tidier it would help your colleagues to leave you notes?”

This is aimed at getting the individual to realise he or she has a problem in this area.

There are less polite and more aggressive approaches.
The negative feedback tends to not mince words.
They have an element which is designed to embarrass and shock.

“Your desk’s a mess sort it out!”
“How the hell can you find anything on that?”
“what sort of level of performance can you reach if that is the state of your desk!”
Motivation is not helped in these circumstances.

Positive feedback does not dwell on the negatives and seeks opportunities for praising any progress.

“Hey, well done, John was able to find the document easily since you tidied your desk.”
“It’s good to see you’ve made a start on tidying your desk keep it up.”
“Fantastic that desk is tidier than mine has ever been”

When you are using neutral feedback to raise an issue make sure you can support it with relevant facts.

It is suggested that the use of neutral feedback should be given two opportunities to succeed.
If there is no improvement you will need to carry out a more rigorous analysis of potential reasons for their behaviour using a stepwise procedure (see Coaching Steps – part 1). If you are unable to shed any light on the matter your only conclusion may be that the individual does not wish to carry out the task. In this situation you will need to use a face to face stepwise discussion (see Stepwise Discussion – part 1).


  • Always plan any feedback.
  • Make it constructive. You want to change behaviour not eliminate it completely.
  • Don’t raise too many issues at one time.
  • Clarify that there is understanding even when you are the receiver of feedback.

Frightened of receiving feedback?
Don’t be. Why not ask for it?
It should only make you perform better.