You’ve heard it before: if you want to increase a specific behavior, reward it.
This principle of human behavior actually has its roots in good old doggy behavior, demonstrated by the scientist Ivan Pavlov. Professor Pavlov’s dogs began salivating upon the stimulus that, experience told them, led to delivery of their food.
Behavioral scientists have discovered that people, too, repeat behavior that is rewarded. Rewards work best if they are immediate. Surprisingly, rewards that are random work even better than those that happen every single time – it appears that we’ll keep trying with a randomly rewarded behavior, not knowing which time it will actually yield the results we want (lottery tickets, anyone?).
Good news for managers: rewards don’t need to be big or expensive. In fact, some of the best rewards are those that relate to our social standing. Reward someone by calling him to the front of an entire staff gathering and giving him a clear, verbal “atta-boy” and he’s likely to remember it much longer than a $10 gift card given to him in passing, with no one looking on.
What behavior makes your team stronger? Perhaps you’ve chosen to focus on improving customer service this year. What specific behaviors are you looking for? Are you modeling those behaviors within view of your team? Are you looking – hard – for people who repeat those behaviors, and then rewarding them?
Be careful, too, about too much time in team meetings spent on what NOT to do. Focus instead of what team members SHOULD do – let good behaviors gradually reduce or eliminate undesired behaviors.
Rewards? Public praise and attention, a genuine pat on the back, a meaningful gift card. These will go farther to increasing the behaviors you want than employee of the month programs ever dreamed of achieving.
Behavior that is reinforced is behavior that is repeated.