Learn how consequences actually train and reinforce behavior—both positive and negative.
- I like watching professional sports because the players are the best of the best. You know what that means. Before the start of each season, players have to make the team. There are always rookies who are looking to earn their spot by being faster, stronger, smarter and more enthusiastic. What about at your organization? Do people feel entitled to their job, or do they understand selection is an ongoing process? That is, they have to continually earn their spot on the high-performing team. Here are steps you can take to determine when consequences need to be applied to change or reinforce behavior and not let mediocrity permeate your organization like a leaky ship. First let's talk about what a consequence is. Often we think of monetary incentives or stark punishment like a PIP, or a performance improvement plan, as the only options. But consequences can be much more subtle and easy to deliver. There are basically two types of consequences: positive and negative. Positive consequences are those that aim to reinforce and solidify a behavior. For example, they can be genuine praise in the form of timely, specific and personal feedback. Besides praise as a positive consequence, think about increasing someone's level of responsibility, which ultimately means they get to make more impactful decisions. Ensure you're crystal-clear on what those parameters look like so your intent and expectations are well-understood. This isn't about carrots and sticks. After all, you're managing people, not donkeys. Negative consequences are those that aim to alter or change a behavior. For example, a negative consequence could be as simple as saying, "You let yourself and the team down." Here's a tip: when providing consequences that are negative, it's better to be compassionate and straightforward. Next, timing, when should consequences be delivered? As close to the observed behavior as possible. No one wants feedback delivered way after the fact. We want to know right away if we've done something great or something that needs to be corrected. Waiting for just the right time is plain not kind. Lastly, always communicate expectations up front. You have to first know that the person understood the expectation or standard and has the training or knowledge to execute. Then you need to let the person know if they fell short of the standard and what the result of their inability to perform was to the team and the organization at large. Providing direction without consequences is like putting your car on cruise control and taking your hands completely off the wheel. The direction might be right at the start, but without continuous course correction, you're likely to crash. Continuous feedback will help your team self-correct and keep your car, the organization, on the right track.