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Stepwise discussion part 3

Step 6

Continued reinforcement

As we have spoken about previously this is an absolutely crucial step to maintain performance in the short term and to sustain it long term.
If possible always give positive reinforcement at the time of visible improvement.
Again, remember it is progress that you are looking for and not just task completion.

The timing of your reinforcement will depend upon the nature of the task.
If you are trying to manage an activity that relies on collating data once every month then monthly reinforcement may be useful.
However, even in a case such as this you should be looking to break down the activity that is needed to make this collation of data happen.
It is extremely unlikely that the person will be doing absolutely nothing for 30 days and then suddenly produce the information.
The final collation of data will represent a finished product which needs to be broken down into smaller parts.

This is where identifying behaviours a little more accurately with phrase like, “How will you achieve that?”
and “What does that involve?” will lead you to a more complete list of behaviours.

The title of this section is ‘continued reinforcement’ and not ‘continuous reinforcement’.
In the latter case you begin to reinforce everything that moves. If you begin to do this you may devalue some of your reinforcement and lower motivation.
Also, to give reinforcement continuously would take an inordinate amount of your time.
Be selective and regular but do not overpower with continuous reinforcement.

Most people once they reach a particular level of performance won’t expect to be continually thanked.
If you start to do too much reinforcement it may be thought somewhat odd.

You may reinforce more frequently at first gradually getting less as the desired behaviour becomes more apparent.
Eventually, you may be just positively reinforcing the finished product, that is the report arriving on time etc.

If you use a reward to encourage maintenance of behaviour make sure that the person knows exactly what it is, what achievement is needed to get it and when it will be given.


If the 6 steps mentioned fail you may need to repeat the various steps to make sure you weren’t missing anything.
At the end of the day you may have a person who will not change and then you may have to fire them.
The advantage of using a stepwise procedure is that you will either solve a behaviour problem in the shortest time or you will find out quickly if a person is beyond hope.

For many organisations directly firing someone is not an option as there will be specific disciplinary policies that you will have to follow. Although there will be situations where immediate dismissal may be valid, for example, violent behaviour or breaking secrecy agreements.

It is more likely that you will go through other stages, for example, written warnings.


One of the areas you need to be careful about is positively reinforcing behaviour that avoids work.
It is one thing to realise this as part of day to day activity but another entirely if it is written into a policy.
This can happen if a certain amount of leeway is given in certain areas but it is written into a policy.

If you expect sick days and say you will allow one per month then it is likely that people will take one per month with your blessing. If you were to say that travel expenses cannot exceed 5% of the total trip costs then people will spend that amount.

On occasion the discussion may not proceed quite as smoothly as you may wish.
What if there is a high emotional content to the meeting?
This type of meeting can cause a great deal of stress in an individual which can lead to outbursts of anger, shouting and crying.
Reduced motivation seems inevitable.

If this happens there is a tendency to supply too much sympathy and curtail the meeting.
In this situation you would have failed.

What you must do is recognise the outburst and retain your own composure until the emotional outburst is over.
Then carry on from where you left off.
By not getting involved you will not escalate a situation and you will not be providing positive reinforcement for extreme behaviour.

If you are in a situation where you find it hard to get rid of the person you will have to examine additional alternatives.
These may include, moving the person, demotion, identifying other negative consequences.
You may need to consider just how important you believe the issue is and perhaps forget about.
If none of these options apply you may need to live with the problem and hope it goes away.

If you find that people walk out of your meetings and that you are happy that you have acted in a reasonable manner you may need to point out to the person certain facts in your next meeting.
In the next meeting refer to the previous issue and state that the meeting has been called officially to discus a behavioural problem and that if he or she walks out it will be seen as an act of subordination which can ultimately lead to dismissal.
This may seem harsh but when you are trying your best to correct a problem, in the interests of all parties, you can not do it if the person involved refuses to cooperate.


  • Many behaviour issues occur because of personal issues. In these circumstances you will need to use considerable tact and appreciate the confidential nature of these problems. In a lot of circumstances the outward sign of these issues may be very obvious to all personnel working with the person. However, you have to realise that there are two separate problems, the personal problem and the affect in the workplace.
  • Where personal problems are concerned you might have to decide whether you can live with it until it resolves itself and hope the effects then subside.
  • Provide accurate descriptions of behaviours (in the above process and job descriptions). Follow up any agreed modifications of behaviour.
  • Positively reinforce all progress at reasonable intervals without becoming too frequent.
  • Create smaller steps so that reinforcement can occur.
  • If possible get the worker him or herself to create their own feedback to monitor progress.

Keeping some of these points in mind may improve motivation for behaviour change.