The Vital Need For Positive Reinforcement

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Post written by Bill Sims Jr.

“Manipulating behavior by offering rewards, while a sound approach for training the family pet, can never bring quality to the workplace.” – Alfie Kohn, Phd.

Applause bursts out spontaneously from a crowd delighted by the band’s performance.

A coach shares a high-five with the player who wins the game. A baby’s first steps are applauded by Mom and Dad.

As hard as Alfie Kohn, Daniel Pink, and others may try to persuade us that external praise and positive feedback are wrong, their arguments do not jibe with the reality of life.

We need positive reinforcement. We cherish feedback con-firming that our contributions matter and that we have made a difference in the world around us.

Aubrey Daniels has coined a great name for this: R+®. From now on in this book, when you see the abbreviation “R+,” you’ll know that I am referring to positive reinforcement (of behavior), the most powerful tool on the planet for increasing human performance.

Butterfly Kisses

“I know the cake looks funny, Daddy, but I sure tried.” In this short line from “Butterfly Kisses”, a song written by Bob Carlisle and Randy Thomas, a little girl reaches out for her father’s approval (positive feedback) to be sure he sees her effort, and he appreciates it.

Bob Nelson’s book, 1001 Ways to Reward Your Employees, reports that of the key drivers of employee happiness and engagement, a recurring top need was “I am able to make a difference at work” and “My manager has recognized me recently for what I do.”

Like the little girl in “Butterfly Kisses”, people need to receive feedback from their leaders confirming that their work has value, and they are keenly aware of the presence of this feedback, or the lack thereof.

As we pass through a murky, chaotic, ever-changing world, we are anchored by that first “A” from our teacher; that first “Good Citizen” award certificate; that first knowledge that we came, we saw, and we made a positive difference.

Self-reinforcement is a very powerful form of R+ (assuming you aren’t suffering from depression).

As my good friend Leo Inghilleri—a highly regarded consultant in the service and hospitality industry—once said, “The problem with highly self-motivated people is that they tend to assume everyone else is just like them.”

Often, presidents and leaders of companies have very high levels of self-R+ around work ethic. When they are told that their employees need R+ to ensure that they continue to perform at their best, their response is often “But nobody did that for me, so why should I do it for others?”

So often they don’t realize that someone did do this for them—a teacher, a parent, a mentor, who gave them positive reinforcement early on.

Bill Sims Jr. is the author of the book Green Beans & Ice Cream from which this post has been taken from chapter 3.

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