The Office, one of the biggest workplace sitcom hits of our time, can be a case of art imitating life when it comes to lessons in effective management practices, ones that employ an understanding of human behaviour, a must for any boss who hopes to inspire and motivate his or her team. In the first half of the season, Andy Bernard, the new Office boss, has shown promise in demonstrating a pretty good grasp of human behaviour in his interactions with employees, something that his predecessors and most managers in corporate America fail to understand and execute.
The good news is that human behaviour has been studied for over 100 years. We know a great deal about how it works and how we can make it work it better. The bad news is that knowledge of human behaviour – and the astonishing power of positive reinforcement – is rarely a requirement for those who hold business leadership positions.
For new CEO’s and managers in particular, it’s critical that they jump right in with both feet and earn the trust and respect of their new team. To do this, it is essential to understand employee behaviour from a scientific perspective, one that includes how and when to effectively use positive reinforcement, the importance of measurement, and how feedback is an integral part of getting and keep desired behaviour.
Just for fun, let’s use Andy as our role model. Follow these five tips and you too will have success with your team, new or old:
Use positive reinforcement effectively. In the beginning, Andy is seen gathering his employees for a meeting. He promptly thanks them for coming because as he tells them, “No one ever thanked me for coming to a meeting before.” While this example may seem insignificant, the idea of letting people know you appreciate their time can go a long way. Think about it, the tendency is towards reprimanding someone for being late but how many times do employees receive reinforcement for arriving to work on time? To effectively use positive reinforcement always make it personal or meaningful to the person receiving it; delivery it immediately – don’t wait or it will lose its effect; make it frequent – you can never receive too much; and make it earned.
Make rewards meaningful: When setting up incentive or reward systems, be sure the rewards are meaningful to the employees. When Andy comes on board, he understands this concept and very quickly offers a behaviour-specific point system with contingent rewards for increasing sales. When he finds that his initial incentives aren’t reinforcing his employees, he decides to let them choose their own incentives. Unfortunately for Andy, his employees opt for a tattoo on his behind if they reach the goal, which they do in record time. They even chart their progress on a graph that depicts his backside. His team reinforces him right back by choosing a tattoo they know he will like. Now that’s putting your rear on the line!
Ask for feedback. This may be difficult for senior leaders and managers that have been in positions of authority for a long time. The reason being that the higher up the corporate ladder you go, the less feedback and reinforcement you get. Ask for and act on feedback. It’s important for employees to believe and trust that they can provide you with feedback and it won’t harm them in the future. Andy does this, albeit on a personal level when he asks his employees for their advice and takes it, even if it is about which tie he should where to impress the CEO.
Don’t promote people no one likes: Andy designates Dwight Schrute, the would-be office autocrat, as his “Enforcer.” Schrute is the type of no-holds-barred punishment freak that sadly is often promoted into managerial positions. There is a perception in leadership that managers who are well-liked are not effective at producing results. What organisations don’t understand is that these practices have a correlation to other operational costs: high turnover, grievances, absenteeism, training, and recruitment. The most effective managers will almost always be well-liked.
Say Thank You: recognise good work with a simple ‘thank you.’ Thanking employees for something that he or she has done that is helpful to you in some way is always appreciated and goes a long way to building trust and respect.
Andy may not be perfect, but for a newbie, this fictional regional manager is off to a good start and applying the principles of the proven science of behaviour will always deliver improved performance and a workforce that is ready, willing and eager to perform.
Aubrey Daniels is the author of Oops! 13 Management Practices that Waste Time and Money (and what to do instead). He is the founder and chairman of Aubrey Daniels International, a management consulting firm whose clients include DaimlerChrysler, Blue Cross Blue Shield, NASA, Roche Laboratories, and Westinghouse.
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