Positive Reinforcement

“What is good about life is as genuine as what is bad and therefore deserves equal attention” – C. Peterson, 2006

The days I play my favorite songs driving back home are the days I had a truly enjoyable work-day. And invariably those are days when someone recognized something good I did at work – and said so. Positive reinforcement – the official organizational psychology term – as an instrument of motivation has been long understood but sadly less implemented. Let me rephrase that – improperly implemented I should say.

Over the course of our employment we end up doing a gigantic stream of good work (and some stupid stuff as well but since societies have made evolutionary progress, I am assuming the algebraic sum of smart and stupid work is positive). These bits of work all go on to make something substantial in both volume as well as the impact it has on our employers (and ourselves). Many of these accomplishments are recognized – and that is where the problem begins

The problem is not in the recognition per-se but in the manner in which recognition happens, gets recorded, accumulated, propagated and associated. A bulk of the recognition takes the form of a verbal – “great job” or a short e-mail of thanks. Some employers have systems of physical rewards & recognition, which gives an employee a physical object – a trophy sometimes – that reminds her of her good work each time she looks at it. In most cases however these micro-recognitions fail in getting associated by either the employer (manager) or the employee to their performance goals, reducing the evaluative impact of the bits and pieces of work that go to stitch up an year’s work. Does it then surprise you that year end performance evaluations are usually an evaluation of the last assignment or worse, a totally subjective discussion of perceptions?

Happy employees make great workplaces. And great workplaces make great businesses. Happiness is a steady stream but has its ebbs and flows. Organizations rely more on point-in-time appreciation of positive employee efforts but have failed to put their employees bang in the middle of this river of happiness. The failure is perhaps not due to lack of intent but more attributable to absence of a solution that addresses this issue

Image courtesy: baobabinc.com


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