Volume 30: Positive Reinforcement

RoyI’ve been told many times in my professional career that as a manager, you have to discipline employees that don’t do their jobs at a high enough level, but not to reward employees for doing what’s expected of them.

The premise is that someone shouldn’t have to be praised for doing something that falls well within their normal job description. On the other hand, when someone strays from what is expected, they should be dealt with harshly to ensure that they do not stray again, and to send a message to others that failure to meet expectations is unacceptable.

I couldn’t disagree with this mindset more.

I very much believe that a strong, productive workplace centers on POSITIVE reinforcement. When goals are met, the team should celebrate fiercely. When they aren’t, rather than scowl and berate the employees that failed to reach their objectives, I want to evaluate where we fell short and how to fix it.

The second quarter of this year was very good to Oberg and Associates, LLC, and our team more than accomplished our second quarter goals. Even better, there are many great prospects on the horizon for the third quarter that started last week.

Now, under the old mindset, this accomplishment shouldn’t be overly harped on because I expect people come in and reach their goals.


Instead, this past Saturday night, our team went to a great steakhouse in Dallas and spent the night at a nice hotel. Bottles of wine were consumed, great appetizers and steaks were eaten, and most of all, the team had a great time.

Why would we go so over the top to recognize the meeting of goals that we expect to meet as a company? Because the next time things start to slow down around our office, or someone isn’t feeling motivated at that moment, or a deal falls through and an employee begins to get disheartened, they’ll look back and remember what happens when we reach our goals. How great a time they all had celebrating a great quarter.

I find that that positive memory is a much better motivator than yelling when someone falls short.

Though, that happens sometimes too…

There are quarters when we fall short. According to the old way of thinking, I should hoot and holler and make sure everyone in the company knows how terrible things are! Heads should roll, damnit!

But what good does that really do? Is an employee that has been berated and told how lousy he or she is going to get back to their station and have any kind of positive momentum to turn things around? Probably not

So, instead, we try to sort out how to fix it.

Instead of pointing blame for problems, we recognize setbacks and search for solutions. When an employee leaves my office after a bad week, month or quarter, I want them going to their desk hopeful and armed with solutions, not beaten, with their mind focused on problems.

Now, with all of that said, this approach doesn’t work for every manager or every employee. Some employees need to be told how bad things are, so that they can take the challenge and answer the call.

But, as a rule, you’ll catch more flies with honey than vinegar, and everyone likes to feel validated when they succeed, and supported when they fall short.

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