Communication & Alignment

Hey You, Good Job!!!!@! (Sheesh, Well Forget That …)

So what’s with all the “feel good” stuff?

Aren’t you tired of having to be so super-sweet all the time, when what you really want to say to employees is “GET THE JOB DONE!”

Well, I’ve got some good news for you. In this case, you CAN have it both ways. It has been demonstrated that getting results on a consistent basis is much more likely to occur with positive reinforcement than through demands and negative repercussions. BUT — and here’s the big BUT –positive reinforcement must be used correctly.

Positive reinforcement is NOT saying “good job.”

In order to truly change behavior and get results, leaders must reinforce what’s right. It requires leaders to throw away the myth that their job is to pay attention to what’s wrong. Use these eight POSITIVE rules and watch performance rise!

P. Personal

The positive reinforcement must be motivating to the receiver. Some personality types love the spotlight and nothing is greater than being recognized in public. For others, public recognition would be embarrassing and uncomfortable. Some employees need positive reinforcement on a regular and frequent basis, whereas others would consider that inauthentic. Take the time to understand the behavioral style of your employees so that the recognition is personal and meaningful (behavior assessment tools can be a helpful guide).

O. Focus on Outcome

Be very clear what outcome you’re reinforcing. For instance, if you notice that an employee has been working long hours, do you mean to reinforce the fact that she’s staying extra hours, or that she’s completing a project she’d committed to having done at a certain time? If you compliment someone for speaking up in a meeting, are you complimenting him on the idea he just presented, or on the fact that he had the courage to speak up about a sensitive topic? Be careful to focus on the behavior you want to encourage.

S. Specific

Be specific. For example:

  • “Your summary is direct and clearly identifies the three primary issues,” is better than “good summary.”
  • “Thank you for completing this on time even though you encountered some unexpected obstacles,” is better than “I appreciate you getting this to me.”

The general complement would have made the employee feel good. However, the more specific complement would have made the employee feel good AND identified what “good” looks like for future expectations.

I. Immediate

Don’t wait. Delay is not your friend. Time dilutes positive reinforcement.

T. Truthful

Positive reinforcement is NOT “happy talk.” It is honest, genuine feedback. A lack of authenticity is as clear as the neon lights of Las Vegas. Once detected, the damage is significant and it is a long, hard journey to gain back lost trust. Speak from a place of honesty of words, and honesty of intent.

I. Identify Steps

Behavior changes in small steps:

“When you improve a little each day, eventually big things occur. Seek the small improvement one day at a time. That’s the only way it happens — and when it happens, it lasts.”
— John Wooden, one of the most successful coaches in the history of college basketball.
Identify and recognize the small steps. For instance, take note of a chronically late employee who arrives on time two days in a row, a person terrified by public speaking who gives a five-minute presentation to the team, a typically negative person who gives a compliment.

V. Valuable Consequences

Proceed with great caution if you practice “rewards” for behavior (carrot-and-stick approach). A reward CAN be effective if it is small and non-monetary such as recognition, a kind word from the boss, an unexpected flower on your desk. However, big fancy prizes and material gain can backfire by undermining a person’s intrinsic motivation toward the activity. That type of reward also has the danger of fostering short-term thinking, stifling creativity or even becoming addictive.

Instead, the reward should be small, appropriate to the person, and free or inexpensive.

E. Engage Respectfully

Be careful and mindful not to “talk down to people.” Your role is not parental such as “I’m so proud of you.” Employees and co-workers are not children and deserve professional and respectful praise.

Positive reinforcement is fun. It’s effective. It’s contagious. Learn how to use it and enjoy the rewards!

This topic and more are included in the Vistage Connect™ CEO peer advisory sessions. Learn more.

Jane Adamson is the CEO and founder of Phoenix-based Sherpa Advisory, which guides companies through the growth stages that require mid-size companies to “do” all the things that large companies do, but with limited resources. She has been the president of two manufacturing/service organizations, sat on industry and professional boards, orchestrated the successful turnaround of a financially distressed organization, and implemented numerous performance management processes. Jane can be reached at:

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