It is rare for anyone to be involved purely in one job that has only one behaviour attached to it.
This being the case, a worker is likely to prioritise the actions even if he has been given no guidance in this area.
Some tasks have to be carried out one after the other so have a natural pecking order.
For others the worker will prioritise based upon his or her own set of values and facts.
If there is likely to be any problem the manager should make it absolutely clear where the priorities lay.
Hopefully, a job is under enough control to prevent regular changes in priorities.
Ask yourself if the behaviours contributing to the task are being reinforced.
Are there enough opportunities to make positive comments when you see good or improving performance.
If you need more opportunities try to create more steps in the process which can have their own separate achievements for reinforcement. Reward systems can be used (see Reward Systems – part 1).
If something nasty is likely to happen on completion of a behaviour the frequency of that behaviour will drop.
Unwittingly, many managers engineer scenarios where the reward for good performance ends up as negative reinforcement for the worker.
If performance (or reluctance to perform) drops look for the possibility of negative reinforcement.
Take the situation where workers are doing a very similar job, for example, administrative activities, secretarial, non-skilled work et.
In this situation the manager might say that if you finish what work is allotted, please help the others that are behind with theirs.
A little bit of thought in this situation, for any of the workers, will lead them to the conclusion that if you work well and finish your work your reward is to do someone else’s work. Result, everyone extends their work to finishing time to avoid the negative consequence.
What happens if you have a boring job that everybody hates but must be done.
In this situation a manager may well try to rotate the responsibility for the job to relieve the boredom.
After a period of time the boss realises that one or two people actually do a really good job even though it is a terrible task.
Faced with this, the manager may increase the frequency of the superior workers on this particular job.
Result do a good job and you get more of a terrible job.
“Has anyone got any good ideas?”
“Don’t be frightened to raise new ideas”
No matter how a manager may phrase a suggestion that ought to generate new thoughts the ultimate result may be negative to the worker if the boss says, “I think that may be a great idea, try it out and get back to me with the data.”
Basically, you have produced an idea and, again, more work for yourself.
For another, being asked to follow up an idea would be great motivation.
It’s not unusual for new workers to start with great enthusiasm only to see it dashed on the alter of negative reinforcement.
Previously, we had considered thought transmission (see Communication – part 1) in order to get an individual to raise an issue themselves.
When the brain receives a message it automatically triggers similar ideas. If you ask people to say the first word that comes into their head, if you refer to a word, it is never the word you refer to.
If you say “black” the normal reply is “white” or it may be “dark” or “night” or “evil” etc.
Nobody will say “black”.
This trigger effect may have an annoying side effect when you propose ideas to your boss.
He or she may come up immediately with one or two ideas of their own which may undermine your efforts.
One of the most frequent negative consequences of doing a behaviour is the fear of failure.
It doesn’t matter whether it is real or imagined it is real to the individual.
This may manifest itself in different ways.
There may be the direct fear of doing the behaviour, for example, giving a presentation.
There may be an indirect fear.
For example, if you sell item ‘A’ to customers that may be fine.
But what if the supply end is poor?
What if the quality is poor?
What if delivery is poor?
What if spare parts are in short supply?
These sort of peripheral issues can create fear.
We know that customer complaint departments are often used as an avenue for aggressive behaviour.
People working in this area need specific training to manage the negative consequences of excitable complainers.
In some areas it is impossible to avoid negative consequences.
If you love sports you will get strains, tiredness, bone breakages etc.
Yet people keep on playing sports because the positive reinforcements out weigh the negative.
Their motivation is high.
If you can’t remove negative reinforcements outweigh them with positive ones.
This is when you anticipate something bad might happen when you carry out a behaviour.
In this case, you must be very convincing in allaying such fears. These are also very real to the individual although they may be illogical to you.
Given the choice many people will do nothing rather than waste their time doing what you wish.
If the available choices reinforce doing nothing then that is the likely outcome.
How many times have you gone to the best performers to complete a task because you knew they were good?
This reinforces the worst performers for doing nothing and doesn’t develop their skills.
Have you known non performers being promoted or moved elsewhere gaining experience at the apparent expense of higher performers?
It’s a very common occurrence that people are assigned to do a particular task and don’t.
The manager’s reply is often to ask a more accommodating individual to complete the task.
Result a person is rewarded for non performance and another’s motivation is reduced.
Minimum effort may be the order of the day. Doing just enough to avoid serious consequences is common.
In these cases there are no negative consequences to make the individual perform at a better standard.
Put some in place.