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Effective Reinforcement and Feedback Techniques

Effective reinforcement and feedback techniquesOrganizations that use employee satisfaction surveys to identify how their employees feel about their jobs and the working relationship with their direct supervisors have noticed an interesting trend. While most survey results shift over time to reflect the changes taking place as an organization evolves, one factor rarely changes. Regardless of the size of company, the industry, or how good the organization is performing, surveys show employees feel they are not adequately praised for their achievements. In fact, in many cases the results demonstrate they are flat-out dissatisfied with how their supervisors provide feedback for their achievements.


Is this occurring because managers and supervisors just don't care?


Clearly not—all supervisors realize a good working relationship with employees can mean higher productivity. For the most part, it's not the intention that's the problem. Instead, it's the delivery of the reinforcement that's the culprit. When all an employee hears is "good job!" or only gets a high-five, most of the value of the feedback is lost because it's not specific enough—a phenomenon we refer to as the 'warm fuzzy'.


Here's an easy way to remember how to deliver effective reinforcement: If you can see it, you can say it!


Activity-focused reinforcement (AFR) method


Activity-focused reinforcement increases employee performance by reinforcing the activities, behaviors, and competencies that are appropriate and important. A good rule-of-thumb is to incorporate two activities (where possible) to make a lasting impression. An activity is any observable action or behavior an individual takes to achieve an outcome. Here are several examples:


'Warm Fuzzy' (poor) Activity Focused Reinforcement (excellent)

"Great job on the report!"

"Great job on the report! The use of charts and graphs really helped to explain the information well—and your final recommendations made it easy for us to make a decision. Nice work!"

"You ran a great meeting today."

"The way you ran the meeting today was excellent! You immediately got people involved and you made sure everyone had an opportunity to provide input. Well done!"

"Terrific job on the filing system!"

"The work you did on the filing system was excellent! The color-coded tabs really make it easy to find the information quickly. Thank you!"

"Nice work handling that upset customer!"

"You handled that upset customer perfectly! The questions you asked calmed him down quickly—and the options you presented to resolve the situation showed how much you wanted to help. An excellent example of customer service!"

"Great results this month!"

"Great results this month! The plan you developed for your team made it easy for them to see the priorities—and the new tracking system you put in place provided them immediate feedback. I really like this approach!"

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