Think Positive

Encouraging your employees is good, but providing positive reinforcement is even better.

Q: I try to be an effective leader by being supportive of my employees, but I'm never sure whether what I'm doing is really working. What are the best ways to foster loyalty, high morale and productivity among my workers?

A: The first point to address is that you don't build loyalty, morale and productivity by offering encouragement alone. Many managers think their jobs are to articulate a mission, develop goals and then inspire people to reach them. While this is necessary for high performance, it's just not sufficient.

All your planning, organizing and inspiring just get people ready to perform; these activities don't guarantee they will perform. To ensure that employees achieve your desired goals, you need to apply a system of performance management on a daily basis. This is probably the most difficult aspect of management. Most managers can specify outcomes they want in measurable terms, but few can actually specify the behaviors that are needed to produce results. To do this, ask yourself what you want to see employees doing when you walk into the workplace. Think about the activities that will help everyone achieve their goals, and compare those activities with what your employees are doing now.

Once you've identified the proper behaviors, you're ready to start building loyalty, morale and productivity. Whether people will work hard and feel good about their work is not a function of anything you've done so far. It's a function of what you do when they behave as you want them to behave. This is where positive reinforcement comes in.

Understand that positive reinforcement involves much more than giving a pat on the back or designating an employee of the month. It's a powerful interpersonal tool that must be used carefully. I devote several pages to this idea in my books, Bringing Out the Best in People: How to Apply the Astonishing Power of Positive Reinforcement and Other People's Habits: How to Use Positive Reinforcement to Bring Out the Best in People Around You. Here are four rules that will help you use positive reinforcement effectively:

1. Make it personal. No one reinforcer works with everyone, so find out what each person values.

2. Make it earned. People respect most what they earn. It's your job to set up opportunities for people to earn positive reinforcement.

3. Make it immediate. When you see desirable behavior, reinforce it immediately. The more immediate the reinforcement, the more effective it is. Try to catch people in the act of doing what you want.

4. Make it frequent. It takes many reinforcers to turn desirable behavior into a habit.

In the final analysis, the best way to build a high-performance culture is to put the power of positive reinforcement to work for you and your company.

Aubrey C. Daniels, Ph.D., founder and CEO of management consulting firm Aubrey Daniels & Associates (ADA), is an internationally recognized author, speaker and expert on management and human performance issues. For more about ADA's seminars and consulting services or to order Aubrey's book Bringing Out the Best in People: How to Apply the Astonishing Power of Positive Reinforcement, or visit

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