While responding to a post by Dan Rockwell called, “No encouragement is discouragement” it got me thinking about the issues of performance and coaching and rewards and feedback and extrinsic versus intrinsic motivation and all those kinds of things.
So, my “short” response kind of expanded itself the more I wrote and thought things through. Here is that response, with some additional expansion of ideas:
Once upon a time, I was consulting in the arena of Performance Management when the term meant Behavioral Engineering or Reinforcement Systems Implementation.
It was the use of reinforcement theory into the business / workplace (essentially Skinnerian Operant Conditioning from the psych literature of the 1960s). Proponents were people like Tom Gilbert and Ed Feeney and others (I worked for Ed). Basically, the approach was to implement reward systems in businesses and my particular efforts were heavily linked to high-impact, profit-improvement focuses. We got some really great results, all measurable stuff. High ROI and all that…
However, it quickly became apparent that it was NOT the rewards part of this that was driving behavior but the feedback system improvements that were implemented that were making the impacts. People were responding to the measurement systems, peer pressure and reachable goals and objectives, kind of like the MBO approach that proceeded it. Reaching a goal was in itself rewarding–intrinsically so.
I used a model / checklist of how a feedback system should operate. The reality, even today, is that few measurement programs are very good at giving effective informational feedback.
Most people are in a situation analogous to learning to play the piano with them hearing only 1 of every 4 notes and those being delayed by 5 seconds or so. (Just try to learn piano playing in such a situation, but that is commonly how the workplace works!).
So, I see the “encouragement” thing as an extrinsic or added external reward and thus out of the locus of control of the individual performer. Sure, who does not like to get praise and reinforcement for a job well done? But once one DEPENDS on that, and it does not occur, we get into a more difficult performance situation or environment.
The idea of encouragement as a process improvement strategy compares it to the “theme” of empowerment that we used to hear so much about (now, I think the term used in so many workplaces is simply “survival.”). To me, this push for “recognizing” employees does not seem sincere on its face — it is just one more thing the boss wants the supervisor to do to get more productivity. I don’t think that it will have all that many positive impacts and people will simply wait for this fad to pass, also.
Personally and professionally, I think one cannot empower someone else and also that most people are actually un-empowered; most people let things interfere with their behavior, things we often call roadblocks.
So, my framework is that managers need to act in a way that I call Dis-Un-Empowerment — managers need to use coaching and expectations and other tools to remove the things that people perceive as roadblocks. Google “Dis-Un-Empowerment” and you can turn up some of my writings on this.
So, maybe just maybe, we could also view the typical worker in the American (as well as other) Workplace as un-encouraged. And maybe we need our managers, supervisors, team leaders and others to look for ways to remove the “un” from this, doing Dis-Un-Encouragement.
Being circular in my thinking, I think that if we provide clear goals and expectations and then very effective FEEDBACK systems, we make it more likely that workers will be self-encouraged. People need to see where they are going, how they are performing, and what they need to do to correct behavior and reach the attainable goals. Goals need to be theirgoals, not the manager’s.
Having managers provide this external encouragement is a great idea. But more likely, they will continue to do theconstructive criticism (oxymoron) and other kinds of behaviors that have gotten us into the motivational mess we find in so many workplaces. You think by TALKING about this stuff, we are really going to make a change in how people manage other people?
Geeze, how many copies of One Minute Manager did Blanchard and Johnson sell, anyway?
Encouragement is a GREAT Idea. Getting it accomplished is markedly less likely, methinks.
People need to feel like they have accomplished things in order to feel rewarded and self-satisfaction is one of the keys. People do NOT want to feel that they are controlled or manipulated, something that praise may do if it is not sincere and meaningful to both parties.
I am working up a new Newsletter (March, 2012) that will share my thoughts and ideas about Feedback in deeper detail. It will share a checklist you can use to compare performance feedback in your organization to an ideal model of what is possible.
Have FUN out there.
Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant. Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at email@example.com
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