Reward good behaviour or results and it will be repeated

In behavioural psychology, reinforcement refers to an enhancement of behaviour that occurs whenever that behaviour is preceded by a specific stimulus. Reinforcement can be positive or negative. For example, the hamster nudges the lever and is rewarded with food pellets or you put your hand on the stove and you are burned.

Edward Thorndike (1898) is famous in psychology for his work on learning theory that studied learning in animals (usually cats). Edward Thorndike put forward a ‘law of effect’ which stated that any behaviour that is followed by pleasant consequences is likely to be repeated, and any behaviour followed by unpleasant consequences is likely to be stopped.

B.F. Skinner, who published his seminal work on the topic in ‘The Behaviour of Organisms’, in 1938 argued that positive reinforcement is superior to punishment in shaping behaviour.

The key rules for using positive reinforcement in managing staff are:

  • Positive reinforcement results in lasting behavioural modification (long-term).
  • Punishment changes behaviour only temporarily (short-term) and has many detrimental side-effects.
  • Reinforcement in the business world is essential in driving productivity as employees are constantly motivated by the ability to receive a positive stimulus, such as a promotion.
  • Positive reinforcement both shapes behaviour and enhances an employee’s self-image.
  • Reinforce immediately and reward the employee as soon as possible after his/her good behaviour.
  • Regular reinforcement comes to be expected and fails to motivate. Frequent, but random, reinforcement is more effective.
  • Reward small increments of improvement as most performance improvement is gradual. Rewarding good effort and small improvements will lead to bigger improvements.

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