First the title caught my eye, and then I saw who the author was and I knew I had to get it.  I have been a fan of Aubrey C. Daniels for a long time.  His book, Bringing Out the Best In People changed the way I thought about performance strategies and why many of the ones I was taught simply did not work.  In picking up this book, I knew I now had some practical answers to the question of what to do instead.

Without going into Aubrey’s list of “13 management practices that waste time and money,” (just buy the book) I wanted to share his four rules for making positive reinforcement work.

“1. Make it personal.  People are unique in the things they find reinforcing.”

We know beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  We also need to understand that the things that reinforce positive behavior are in the eye of the receiver.

“2. Make it contingent.  To be most effective, positive reinforcers must be earned.” 

Aubrey, says the best test is to ask the question, “What did the person have to do to earn the reinforcer?”  If they didn’t do anything, you have a problem.  Were they just on the payroll, or did they do something by which they “earned” the reinforcer?

“3.  Make it immediate.  While it is difficult for most people to understand, positive reinforcement increases the behavior that is occurring when one gets it.”

That is why superstition works.  Something good (or bad) happens and we attache the cause to whatever was happening at the time.

“4.  Make it frequent.  One positive reinforcer will not make a habit.”

Aubrey goes on to remind us of something we already knew, and that is that annual, quarterly, and monthly attempts to reward or recognize do not work.  “Many reinforcers are needed to establish a habit,” says Aubrey.

Aubrey Daniels continues, “Behavior is time and money. . . [I]f we build organizations consistent with what we know–that is, if we understand and correctly apply some of the basic facts mentioned above–the principles of behavior will contribute to a dramatically improved workplace.  If we don’t apply what we know, then nature will play out anyway, and the results will always be less than optimal.”

Do yourself and your team a favor, start rewarding the right things at the right time.  Oops! will tell you how it is done.