Read an Excerpt
Chapter 4: A Change of FocusA retired maintenance superintendent was called back to a Chrysler plant to train new employees involved in the manufacturing start-up of a new car. He was one of several people who made a presentation to plant management about the new product and the production training process.
He introduced himself by saying, "I'm Don F. Many of you don't know me, but I retired from this plant several years ago. Since I retired I've had a lot of time to think about my career here. I started as a mechanic in the maintenance department and after several years became maintenance superintendent for the entire plant. As I thought about those days, something bothered me. Of the hundreds of employees that I supervised and managed, I can remember the names of about 30 that I would classify as 'no good.'
"I can remember the names of about the same number who were 'outstanding.' That's 15 to 20 percent of everyone I managed. What really bothers me is the remaining 80 to 85 percent who came in and did their jobs every day. They were the most responsible for my success in the plant, and I can't even remember their names. I hope when you retire you don't bear that burden."
Bringing out the best in people requires that all performers get the right consequences every day. We shouldn't ignore poor performers, but if we are to have a high-performance organization, we can't ignore the good performers either.
The More Immediate, the Better
All four types of consequences are subject to impact erosion. This means the shelf life of a consequence is limited. The more immediate the consequence, the more effective it is in changing behavior. Everyone who has evertried to change a bad habit understands this. We want to lose weight, but we eat high-fat, high-caloric foods today, vowing to change tomorrow. We vowed to start an exercise program tomorrow, but we tune in our favorite TV show instead. We want to quit smoking, but first we finish that last pack of cigarettes.
The immediate consequences-taste, amusement, comfort, and stress reduction-far outweigh the delayed and uncertain consequences of better health.
Consequences that are immediate and certain are very powerful in governing behavior. For example, if, when handling caustic chemicals, performers know a small drop on the skin will produce an immediate and painful blister, it will not be a problem to get them to wear gloves.
However, performers who handle lacquer products that may cause cancer and/or possible nerve damage with prolonged exposure may not consistently wear protective gloves. Many don't wear them at all.
Reinforcers Are More Effective than Rewards
The immediacy factor explains the difference between a reinforcer and a reward. Although that difference will be examined in more detail later in the book, for now you should remember that a reinforcer provided immediately for a behavior has much more effect on that behavior than a delayed reward.
Because a reward is usually in the future, there is always a degree of uncertainty associated with it. Those offering the reward may withdraw it or change the conditions necessary to get it. The performer might not be able to meet the conditions, could die, or otherwise not qualify for the reward. People typically respond more predictably to small, immediate, certain consequences than they do to large, future, uncertain ones.
The consequences that cause people to do their best every day occur every day. Yet experience has shown me that most organizations spend more time, energy, and money providing consequences that occur when employees get sick, retire, or die than on the ones that occur every day.
This has enormous implications for every firm. It means that bonuses, profit sharing, retirement benefits, and similar forms of compensation are future, uncertain consequences and, as such, do not bring out the best in people every day. These incentives are necessary, but not sufficient, to maximize performance. Certain forms of compensation facilitate performance better than others. However, compensation alone will not do the job of maximizing performance. Only effective and frequent positive reinforcement can do that.
Management Myth: People Resist Change
Another important implication of the effect of consequences on behavior involves the critical element of change. We are continually bombarded with rhetoric about the urgency and acceleration of change in today's "fastpaced business world." We are told that people naturally resist change. This has become a major concern for most businesses and many have invested millions learning how to "manage change."
The fact is people don't resist change if the change provides immediate positive consequences for them.
this way, and you won't hurt your fingers." "Hold it this way, and you will be able to see it better." "Move your right hand this way, and you will be able to hit the ball straight." If the correct behavior follows these instructions, and positive consequences occur, we will not have a difficult time getting people to accept change in those situations. It is only in situations where the immediate consequences of change are punishing, or when the new behavior is not immediately reinforced, that we run into trouble.
Almost every corporate initiative impacts the performer negatively at first. While the performer may understand that there are long-term benefits to the company and to the performer personally, the immediate consequences of doing things differently are usually negative. New behaviors require extra effort to learn, result in increased mistakes, cause the performers to get behind in their other work, and create stress because people fear they won't be able to learn or perform as well under new conditions.
To make change a positive experience, we need to be less concerned with managing the change, and much more attentive to managing the consequences associated with change.
Everybody's Behavior Makes Sense to Them
As unbelievable as it may sometimes seem, every person's behavior makes sense to them. That's because everyone is reinforced in different ways. Initially, what is reinforcing to another person may not be obvious to us, but if we look a little deeper we can discover the consequences that maintain almost any behavior.
One of my associates once witnessed some of this seemingly inexplicable behavior when he helped a friend starting a new job. His friend had recently been appointed office manager of a government office in North Carolina. She soon discovered that her job wouldn't be an easy one. The office she managed had a statewide reputation for poor performance. When each office received monthly ratings on a variety of performance measures, her department invariably ranked near the bottom. She quickly asked my associate, a specialist in performance management, for help.
The two spent several weekends and evenings developing individual and group measures. They posted group feedback graphs, developed reinforcement plans, and celebrated improvement. In a short time, the office zoomed from near the bottom to close to the top in performance ratings.
Shortly after the dramatically improved ratings came out, the office manager's boss called her and said, "I don't know what it is you're doing down there, but I want you to stop."
The woman was shocked. Expecting praise, she received punishment instead! "This man must be crazy!" she thought. "Didn't he hire me to do the best possible job, to turn the office around?"
Not until several days later did she learn what had caused his unlikely reaction. Before she began her improvement efforts, her boss had spent considerable time trying to convince his boss that the only way to improve the situation was with more money and more people. She had accomplished the necessary improvement with neither of those organizational changes-changes that her boss anticipated would lead to his reinforcement and reward.
In retrospect, the reaction of the office manager's boss was perfectly understandable when considering the embarrassment her success caused him. His behavior was even easier for her to understand when she discovered that his pay grade was determined by the number of people in his department and the size of his budget. This is an example of an organization structure which provides positive consequences for the wrong behaviors and results!
No-Fault Performance: Change-Not Blame
When you understand how consequences influence performance, you realize that finding fault with people for their inappropriate performance is unproductive and unfair. They are simply behaving in a manner consistent with the consequences they are receiving now and have received in the past.
The role of Leaders in every organization is not to find fault or place blame, but to analyze why people are behaving as they are, and modify the consequences to promote the behavior they need.
This approach to management does not overlook poor performance. Nor does it seek to use only positive reinforcement to attempt to create some type of unrealistic, utopian organization. Quite the contrary.
The management system we should create employs all of the consequences appropriately and skillfully to stop problem performance and promote the kind of behavior that supports the organization's goals. The organization that can differentiate between, and effectively provide, all four types of consequences will quickly achieve levels of performance they may never have thought possible...