Tag Archives: positive reinforcement

When to Give Positive Feedback

Charlie was coaching the operators, I was coaching Charlie. Actually, I was training Charlie. Our first subject was Sonja.

“Good morning, Sonja,” I took the lead. “You completed the training for our real-time data entry screens and then we threw you back on-line with real customers. I don’t know if that is fair, so today, we have you off-line for an hour. We will do the same work, but the customer won’t be real. In fact, I am going to be your customer, so if you need to stop and slow down, all you have to do is smile and we will slow down.

“Since, I am the customer, Charlie will be your coach. Every time Charlie sees something he really likes, he is going to stop you and tell you about the element you did well. Ready?” Sonja smiled.

“You smiled,” I said. “So, let’s take it slow. You have your phone script, let’s start at the top.”

Sonja started through the script. Twenty seconds in, I stopped her.

“Charlie, we just finished the first few seconds of the call. What were the elements that Sonja did well?” Charlie stared at me, intently. Though I had briefed him before we got started, he was still focusing on mistakes. In the first twenty seconds, Sonja had made no mistakes, so Charlie didn’t know what to say.

“Charlie, in the first few seconds, did Sonja stick exactly to the script?” Charlie nodded. “Then, tell Sonja what positive element she accomplished by sticking to the script.”

So, Charlie talked about consistency. And we went on, stopping every few seconds, so Charlie could make a positive comment about Sonja’s performance. The first call took 15 minutes. The second call took 12 minutes. The third took 8 minutes. The fourth took 7. Then 6 minutes. The last two calls hit our target at 4 minutes, and then we had coffee.

Important First Behavior

“I understand positive reinforcement in video games, how you level up to expert, but, how does that work around here?” Travis asked. “I run a loading dock.”

“Travis, the guys loading the trucks, have you noticed the different colored t-shirts they wear, the ones with the company logo on the front?” I asked.

“Yeah, I noticed. We started that about three weeks ago. The new guys get a white t-shirt to start. We had a meeting about it.”

“And when does the new guy get his first white t-shirt?”

“The first day,” Travis smiled.

“No, the first day he punches the time-clock reporting for work on-time,” I clarified. “What is the most important first behavior?”

“Showing up for work on time,” Travis said.

“And when does he get his second white t-shirt?”

Travis was catching on. “The second day he punches in for work on time.”

“And when does he get a yellow shirt?” I continued.

“Five days on time, consecutive days on time.”

“And when does he get a green shirt?”

“When he passes forklift training.” Travis stopped. “I think I get it.”
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Orientation for our next program Hiring Talent starts Monday, March 4, 2013. For more information and registration, follow this link – Hiring Talent – 2013.

Reinforcement and Mastery

“Sustained, discretionary effort. Especially when I am not around, that’s what I’m after,” Travis said. “The training period requires more of my attention and focus, but as time passes and new behavior becomes a competent skill, I have to change my focus.” Travis and I were exploring the role of the manager in all this, specifically looking at the role of positive reinforcement.

“In the beginning, as the manager, I have to overcome push-back and fear,” Travis continued. “But, as the new behavior turns into a competent skill, the issues change.”

“So, what does the manager do differently?” I asked.

“Lots of things, but let’s start with the easy stuff. In the beginning, I may reinforce good old-fashioned effort. But as time goes by and the effort becomes accomplished, I start to reinforce a specific sequence. As the specific sequence becomes accomplished, I may reinforce speed or efficiency.

“Look at my kid’s video game,” Travis smiled. “Game designers structure training sequences into the lower levels of the game. Leveling up requires certain fundamental skills. Once accomplished, the player is introduced to more complex scenarios where mastery of the fundamentals must already exist. Each level becomes increasingly complex. The schedules of reinforcement change, but the principle remains the same. What gets reinforced gets repeated.”

But, I Give Them Feedback?

“But, I give them feedback,” protested Tyler. “They know how to do it right. Why won’t they just do it the way they are supposed to?”

“You want your team members to work the line in a specific sequence in a specific way?” I replied. “You are looking for very specific behaviors?” Tyler nodded his head in agreement.

“When they do it wrong, do you pay attention to them?” I asked.

“Of course. I am usually right on it,” Tyler replied.

“And when they do it right, are you right on it?”

“Well, when they do it right, they just do it right. When they do it right, I don’t yell at them.”

“Tyler, to get desired behaviors, you have to reinforce those behaviors in a positive way. Yelling at people for doing something wrong doesn’t teach them to do it right. Yelling just creates avoidance from doing it wrong. That avoidance behavior can by very erratic and unpredictable. They don’t know whether to scream or eat a banana.

“On the other hand, if you positively reinforce desired behavior, it becomes repeated and predictable.

“So, Tyler, you tell me. What has more value, erratic avoidance behavior or positively reinforced predictable behavior?”
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Orientation for our online program Hiring Talent kicked off last Friday. There is still time to join. Registration is now open. Follow this link for more information. Hiring Talent – 2013.