Monday, November 30, 2009

The Stick Inherent in the Carrot

Business Strategies

StickInTheEye In the previous Business Strategies post, What My Dog Taught me About Team Motivation, I explained that positive reinforcement works very well in motivating teams to achieve company and project goals.  In fact, it may be the only way to achieve continuous positive results even when other firms experience morale issues.

The question remained what do you do with free-riders, those who take advantage of the situation, assuming there are no negative consequences to their poor performance or behavior.  This is the subject of the post today.

A common misconception about use of positive reinforcement is that there are no negative consequences.  There are, in fact, two inherent negative consequences.  Lack of positive reinforcement is the first.  It’s surprising to see how professionals quickly learn that failing to achieve their goals equates to no bonuses, promotions, words of praise, or extra time off. This feels especially damning when they see their colleagues receiving all these rewards for their top performance. 

The other inherent negative consequence for poor performance can be understood by realizing there are standards defined in this system that are used to measure performance.  When determining what actions or results to reinforce, goals and limits are defined.  These limits include the minimum acceptable performance requirements.  You can quite easily mold your human resource requirements for performance reviews to fit in this definition.  By having such definitions, you’ve essentially established a negative consequence for poor performance. When coworkers aren’t able to reach the minimum levels, and after a limited number of allowances for repeated poor performance, you can help the individual find alternatives outside of your organization. 

Another question at this stage is how many repeats of poor performance should your organization tolerate. This depends on how quickly you and your managers can determine the root cause of poor performance and how it can be rectified.   My recommendation is often to set a three-strike policy.  This means that when employees reach a third performance miss, your organization takes a drastic step.  In the meantime, your managers do everything possible to help each poor-performing individual determine and address the root cause.  In fact, all employees will have two opportunities to understand what they missed and how they can address it before a third failure could occur and provide grounds for drastic actions.

This may sound like a lot of effort, but it has substantial benefits for your managers, employees and organization as a whole. I’ll explain these in the next Business Strategies post. 

What Do You Think?

Feel free to comment below about how effective these inherent “sticks” are in the positive reinforcement method of motivation.