Resilience - Reinforcement

Resilience – Reinforcement

In this series, I am introducing you to the twenty superpowers that leaders need to possess to create an environment for resilience. This is an environment in which individuals and teams are resilient in the face of constant change.

Individual resilience is critical when the world around us is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. Resilience means we can adapt to difficult situations and not just survive but thrive. Unless we do, the stress will overwhelm us, and we will suffer physically and mentally.

Each week we will explore one of those twenty superpowers.

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Superpower – The Reinforcer

The Reinforcer reinforces desired behaviours. Positive reinforcement builds resilience.

Much has been written over the years about reinforcement theory. The basic tenet of reinforcement theory is that behaviour is shaped and maintained by its consequences. Research through the years has shown that employees that are positively reinforced, work together more efficiently and harmoniously and are more resilient in the process.

Judith Komaki, in her book, ‘Leadership from an Operant Perspective’ built on this research.

Her research revealed that effective leaders didn’t give positive feedback more often than ineffective leaders but what was different was their timing.

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Effective leaders gave positive reinforcement while the employee was doing the job.

The effective leader spends considerable time amongst their workforce in order to do this. Those spending most time in their offices are ineffective.

When you reinforce a behaviour as it is being performed, you are clear about what you are reinforcing and the person receiving the reinforcement is also clear of their behaviour which generated the positive feedback.

The longer the time between the behaviour and the reinforcement, the less effective it is. This is exactly why annual performance reviews have little or no impact on behaviour.

Individual and team resilience can also be supported when employees give positive reinforcement to each other. As a leader, you should encourage positive feedback at every opportunity.

Know your people

In order to provide effective positive reinforcement, you need to know your employees. What mix of reinforcements works best? Everyone is different and therefore will respond differently.  What interests and motivates them? What is important to them?

It can take time to find this information, but it is simply acquired through conversation, listening and engagement.

Ask your staff what motivates them to get out of bed in the morning and come to work. Ask them what gives them the most satisfaction about their job. Dig deeper and find out what areas could be targeted as reinforcers.

You will need to use your effective communication and listening skills to gather the right information. Listen more than you talk. Don’t interrupt. Encourage the other person to speak by showing interest in what they are saying. Maintain eye contact. Confirm that you have understood what they have said.

This engagement will tell you what to reinforce for each employee. Effective leaders possess a meaningful repertoire of reinforcement techniques, and they know how to use them.

Reinforcements could include (but not limited to):

  • Public recognition and praise
  • Saying thank-you
  • Gift cards
  • Concert or movie tickets
  • Celebration breakfast / lunch / dinner
  • Drinks after work
  • Monetary rewards
  • A pat on the back

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  1. One size does not fit all. You will have to customise your positive reinforcement to each individual.
  2. Give positive reinforcement when it has been earned. Positive reinforcement is given when it is deserved.
  3. Positive reinforcement is not an event, it is a process. Build positive reinforcement into work processes and relationships. Provide it on a regular and frequent basis so that people work at their best.
  4. Mind the gap. Timing is important. Positive reinforcement should be given as soon as possible after the behaviour you are reinforcing has taken place. The longer the gap, the less effective the reinforcement.

Overall, remember it should be positive, immediate and certain.

You can read more in Karen’s Leadership and Resilience series, here

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