Conventional Wisdom on Positive Reinforcement
We’re all familiar with the axiom:
You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.
Managers know this. Yet how often to they fail to apply it? How often do you forget to apply it? What happens when you apply the vinegar with those you lead?
What Happened to Positive Reinforcement?
American managers have a common practice. They use an approach called; Leave ’em alone > ZAP. With this approach, the managers provide apparent autonomy until they’ve discovered something undesirable. Then the ZAP occurs. So much for the attractive power of honey.
Leave ’em alone
Leave ’em alone > ZAP is a phrase coined in the 1982 classic, best selling management book, The One Minute Manager. Despite the book’s decades of popularity, bad managers have modeled the zapping style for decades. The zapping style has passed down through generations of both managers and parents.
The Downside to Zapping
Putting this in legal terms, the manager is the zapper and the worker is the zappee. The zapper is compelled to manage and views zapping as a duty and necessary task.
Repeated zapping quickly becomes task wise and outcome foolish.
What a manager intends as instruction is most often perceived as chewing out, shouting or yelling even with a nonthreatening tone of voice. The defensive force fields are raised. For the zappees, getting zapped repeatedly can kill initiative and motivation.
What’s a Manager to Do?
Consider reversing a simple substitution. Instead hiding in the weeds and waiting for your next zapping opportunity, why not try to catch them doing something right? When did we forget about positive reinforcement? When is the last time you gave out an ‘atta boy or a way-to-go? Start seeking stroking opportunities. Remember…
Behaviors that get rewarded get repeated.
In October, 2012, I shared The Booth Feedback Model on this site. And I’ve shared it with scores of coaching clients. It’s a simple, collaborative framework for both catching things that are done right and things that need improvement.