Author Archive for: Richard

It’s Not My Fault… Is It? Part 2

Categories: Behavior change, Leadership, ReinforcementAuthor:

How many attempts do the kids make before they stop nagging you about buying the next latest and greatest Apple I Pod-Padooozle? If the answer is “a lot” look to yourself before you blame the little devil child. The kids are playing the slot machine of parenthood and over time, we’re providing the “payout” just enough to keep the nagging going. The long term result is an environment where TWO people are unhappy. As parents, we’re unhappy because of the constant battle going on between us and our kids; our kids are unhappy because they’re becoming a bit of a handful and their relationships with others begin to suffer.

In part one of this blog I said that as parents and leaders, we are the consequence providers. If you’re a leader in business, you’re also responsible for managing the behaviors of the people who report to you and it’s not uncommon to find yourself unhappy with those results too. Getting better at delivering consistent consequences is a step in the right direction. In behavioral terms this is known as building stimulus control. It’s setting an expectation (antecedent) and then delivering appropriate consequences following the behavior(s). Plainly speaking, we develop stimulus control when we’re vigilant to always do what we say we will do. This sounds really simple but the truth is it’s quite challenging. Getting better at being a consistent consequence provider is like losing weight: unless we have data we don’t notice improvements.

If you’re getting something you don’t want from somebody look for the “payout” that they receive and work to eliminate it. If you want more of something, remember to be consistent with consequences. Keep track by counting how often you follow through and how often you don’t. Get better at this and people will respect you for it, even the kids.

It’s Not My Fault… Is It? Part 1

Categories: Behavior change, Leadership, One on One CoachingAuthor:

Recently I had the pleasure of delivering an invited talk at an international conference on leadership. After the talk someone from the audience asked me: “what are some similarities and differences you’ve observed between coaching parents and leaders?” After thinking for a few seconds the answer seemed obvious: They both find ways to blame the very people they are meant to influence; leaders blame their workforce and parents blame their kids. The simple truth although a bit alarming, isn’t surprising once the facts are considered.

Most of us learn how to read and write, add and subtract simple numbers, and even drive a car by the age of 17. How is it that learning to be a good leader can be missed in all of this? The truth is it’s rare for anyone, including parents or business leaders to have any formal training in behavior.  A basic understanding would likely increase the chances of having a meaningful impact on the people we care most about. As parents and leaders, we are the consequence providers. We manage the environments that others live and work in and we have more influence than we think.  People who have success influencing others aren’t innately better leaders, they’ve just learned to be.

Read part two of this blog here.


Why Would Anyone Confess to a Crime They Didn’t Commit? The Answer: Negative Reinforcement

Categories: Behavior change, Employee Engagement, LeadershipAuthor:

Police in Chicago are often given the difficult task of identifying and arresting those responsible for committing crimes within the city.  They have a pretty good track record of getting convictions via sworn confessions, but sometimes people admit to crimes they didn’t commit.  Why would anybody do this?  The television news program 60 Minutes conducted an investigation of wrongful convictions in Chicago to find out.  Tactics used by the Chicago police unit to obtain confessions included: refusing food, drink, or use of the toilet, and other means of psychological and physical pain.  Multiply these tactics over a few hours, days, or even weeks and it’s no wonder people will say and do anything to escape the situation, including giving false confessions to murder or rape.  Over the last few years 189 convictions have been overturned after further investigation was carried out.

Negative reinforcement is one of the most misunderstood concepts in behavioral science, and also one of the most common ways of managing people in organizations.  Negative reinforcement is also responsible for generating unhappy, anxious, and unmotivated employees.  The first step to minimizing its use is understanding what it is.

Negative reinforcement increases behavior.  Someone has experienced negative reinforcement whenever they have engaged in a behavior in order to avoid or escape an aversive situation.  An example might be consistently delivering a report just before it is due.  The behavior of ‘delivering reports’ is likely to occur because the employee will be reprimanded otherwise.  An indication that someone is guilty of this type of management involves the timing of report submission.  If your people are consistently submitting work just before the deadline, you’re likely providing negative reinforcement for work completion.  Another way to test this is to make a few tasks optional and see how many people complete them.  If nobody does, you can bet you manage people with negative reinforcement.

Another example is giving in to a child’s request for something (say, a toy at the toy store).  The child kicking and screaming on the floor might just prompt you to give in.  This behavior, giving in, ends the embarrassing situation happening in front of amused onlookers.  Remember, negative reinforcement increases behavior.  Agreeing to purchase the toy resulted in shutting the little squirt up and increased the chances that you’ll give in next time because your giving-in was reinforced.  Negative reinforcement is why we take aspirin when we have a headache, or scratch a mosquito bite.  Those behaviors all eliminate aversive conditions.

The good news is there are ways to get results (and manage behavior) that don’t require negative reinforcement.  Create an environment where people want to add value not because they have to, but because they want to.  Start by recognizing achievement when appropriate.  When you must provide constructive feedback, be sure it’s pinpointed.  People tend to accept feedback much better when it is specific.  Count the number of punishers (face to face comments, remarks in e-mails and so on) you deliver in a day and work to reduce that number.  Find opportunities to tell people what you like about what they’re doing to increase the chance you’re seen as a deliverer of positive reinforcement, instead of negative reinforcement.

There will always be some situations that require a bit of negative reinforcement.  It’s not that we should never use negative reinforcement; it’s that we should learn to use it in the right time and place.  If your employees are confessing to crimes they didn’t commit or doing everything just before the deadline, you’re probably using too much.