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A Positive Approach to Bringing Out the Best in People

Bringing out the best in people.

This edition of the business classic Bringing Out the Best in People (McGraw Hill Education, 2016) by behavioral psychologist Aubrey C. Daniels provides a timely update to his seminal book on performance management. With new chapters on employee engagement and the impact of technology, as well as tips for stimulating innovation and managing today's multigenerational workforce, the book offers readers behavioral tools to effectively address workplace issues.

The book examines the effects of two kinds of reinforcement that all of us receive every day: positive and negative. Both types, the author writes, increase behavior—but in opposite ways. Positive reinforcement causes a behavior to increase when a desired consequence follows it. Negative reinforcement causes a behavior to increase as a means of escaping or avoiding some unpleasant consequence. Organizations that use reinforcement effectively see improvement. A lack of improvement means that the right kind of reinforcement is not occurring, Daniels writes.

So how can organizations apply positive practices to get workers to behave in ways that help the business? Rewards and recognition are time-tested strategies that can make that happen—but only if they motivate employees and don't leave them feeling anxious or, worse, angry.

The book offers six tips for making rewards and recognition effective:

  • Positive reinforcement has to be a daily affair. No matter how much money or time you spend on rewards and recognition, Daniels writes, you will not get the results you want, or could have, if the organization gets things done with negative reinforcement day to day.
  • Rewards and recognition must be earned. There must be a direct relationship between individual performance and the reward and recognition. Daniels contends that one of the real problems with team recognition and rewards is that everyone gets them regardless of level of contribution.
  • The recognition must have personal value. The T-shirt, coffee mug or keychain will be valuable only if it is combined with, or reminds the person of, an accomplishment that makes him or her proud.
  • The delay between the behavior and the reward and recognition must be bridged. Because reinforcement is immediate, some event that has reinforcing value must occur in proximity to the valued behavior.
  • The presentation of the incentive should be preceded by a celebration. In the workplace, this means giving the employee a chance to share his or her accomplishment. So the sales rep, not the boss, should be the one to recount what he or she did to meet a goal.
  • Money is not the best incentive. You need only study the recent Wells Fargo ghost account scandal to see this truth demonstrated. Daniels recommends applying other tangible incentives—such as celebrations—to motivate desired behaviors. These simple acts become memories that stay with people long after money is spent.

Desda Moss is managing editor of HR Magazine.


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