My mum always told me, “You can catch more flies with honey than you can vinegar.” In other words, people respond better to rewards than punishments. As a leader or a marketer if you want an employee or a customer to change behavior, research says the best thing to do is give them positive reinforcement when they do what you want.
Several studies conclude that positive reinforcement is the best way to encourage better behavior. Two new studies examine these concepts more and give us better insight into why this works well.
Study 1: Punitive Consequences Encourage Deception
A new study by the McGill researchers indicates that kids lie to their parents when they face punishment. When encouraged to tell the truth about misbehavior without punishment, however, kids tell the truth. Victoria Talway, a Child Psychology Professor, studied four- to eight-year-olds, where participants were told not to peek at a concealed toy when the adult left the room. If the kids were told there would be a punishment, kids who peeked would lie about it. If they were told not to peek but if they did telling the truth would help the situation, they confessed to peeking. Talway’s conclusion was that kids lie to appease adults.
If you threaten your employees or Customers with punitive action when they do something you don’t want, you are potentially encouraging them to lie to you. While you certainly aren’t their mom or dad, they might want to appease you anyway. Unfortunately, you have two problems here. First, they are still doing what you don’t want. Second, they are lying to you, destroying the relationship of trust you need to have a good experience with them.
Study 2: Rewards Work Better Than Fines
Daniel Pink is a host of Crowd Control and wrote several books on human behavior. He examined what is the best way to discourage minor law breaking. He defined minor law breaking as speeding, jaywalking and parking in handicap spaces. Each of these offenses traditionally is enforced with a fine sentence. What Pink discovered on his show was offering incentives to comply with the laws was far more effective than the threat of fines at getting these wayward souls to change their lawbreaking ways.
What he discovered was that by rewarding those not speeding, he reduced speeding on the roadway by one-third. He had similar results of improvement for other experiments in jaywalking and handicapped parking places.
Your Customers have behaviors that cost your organization money. An excellent example is those Customers that still want a paper statement. The costs associated with sending a paper statement are enormous for an organization, while electronic statements are much less. When Customers get charged for a paper statement, it’s annoying and generates negative feelings toward the company, and rarely encourages them to do what you want. If you reward Customers for making the switch to eStatements, however, they are far more likely to make the switch and have positive feelings for doing so.
Related: Music: A Marketing Tool (LinkedIn)
Positive reinforcement is the key here. Human behavior is driven by many factors, not the least of which is emotional rewards and positive feelings. Play this tendency to your advantage is the way to harness the power of human behavior and use it to get the results you want—and have them thank you for it afterward.
What ways have you used positive reinforcement over punitive consequence to get the behavior you want from employees and Customers? Please share your insight with all of us in the comments.