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Monetary Incentives

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Monetary Incentives

Ask Aubrey:

Hi Aubrey !!

My name is Scott, I am a human performance technologist. My question is:

Bill Abernathy in his book Managing Without Supervising suggested that R+ systems without monetary incentives are less likely to be maintained by the clients.

Once you have trained managers in R+ and helped them with their feedback system, how often did a non-monetary R+ program fade after a period of time, and what did you learn to do to help sustain it on a global or structural level?



Remember, any system will survive as long as the behaviors supporting it are positively reinforced. You need to constantly check to make sure that you have effective reinforcers.

To the extent that you can build natural reinforcers into your processes, i.e., make them save time and effort for the performers, you increase survivability. In addition, if you can make the accomplishments visible to the performers and connected to their behaviors, these systems and processes can last for a very long time.

There is no question that monetary consequences for valuable accomplishments also increase survivability but if you don’t monitor this system it may not last either. Like any other positive reinforcer, money is not a reinforcer under all conditions or to all performers. Any system that has static reinforcers will eventually lose some of its effectiveness.

Your problem requires a longer answer so let’s keep the discussion going but I hope this will be helpful to you as you continue to use behavioral principles in your management.

Let me know if I can be of help in the future.

— Aubrey

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Posted by Aubrey Daniels, Ph.D.

Aubrey is a thought leader and expert on management, leadership, safety and workplace issues. For the past 40 years, he has been dedicated to helping people and organizations apply the laws of human behavior to optimize performance.


It seems like (to me anyway) that institutionalizing a feedback and monetary rewards system might be closer to what people have done and had experience with in businesses rather than a system based on non-monetary rewards or individualized reinforcement. It's rather clear to me how I would structure the organizational systems for bonuses and pay outs based on performance--those are things many organizations do already. Less clear is the path to develop systems to reinforce the behavior of those who reinforce. What are some things to look at or some steps to take to encourage those who give reinforcement in my organization?

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Scott, Bill has a point about the money sustaining behaviors. I've seen some of his programs and they work really well but I suspect that he short changes the impact of the non-monetary reinforcers that maintain the "paid" behaviors. He has people collecting the data (other than the supervisor) and he has managers checking to see that the system is still working in the sense of generating a ROI. If the right people are doing these behaviors, and getting reinforced for them, you can maintain behaviors for a long time, as Bill does. I have also been in companies with data on individual and group performance where there was a monetary incentive for behaviors. However, the managers and the data collectors were only reinforced monitarily. It wasn't long before the system turned into another pay plan that was ultimately bought out by management because it just was not working. Actually it was working quite well since the managers and data collectors simply changed the process to insure maximum payout for all involved. In the long run, the only behavior change was the managers' and data collectors'. Ultimately, I think you only sustain behavior when you make the process reinforcing, the pay-off worthwhile and social reinforcement meaningful.

I couldn't agree more that behaviour needs changing and these approaches work short term but I'd tend to agree with Bill's systems view rather than trying to control and reinforce specifics behaviours. Such micro management approaches have their place but surely they are not the first step. The bigger systems picture needs to be addressed first as Bill argues, as this article argues http://changethis.com/19.bossdictator and as Ricardo Semler demonstrates in his books. Once the system and its natural gravitational like consequences have been adjusted then those within the system will be more open and receptive to specific behaviour change. The destruction of the essentially aversive and controlling elements of the traditional workplace and the construction of systems that create contingent pairings and establish reinforcers should come first. Lay a ground work of organisational structure, pay, physical environment, the removal of performance obstacles, the freeing of resources, measurement and leadership behaviour before trying to micro manage the kids' activity. There is always a fork in the road between control and freedom. Do we control another's environment or give them control aligned to a set of outcomes. The former control path is more reliant on the consistancy of our reinforcing behaviour and the history and associations that make that relationship. The latter on our ability to create systems that demonstrate trust and inspire learning through giving people freedom to explore and discover the reinforcers in their environment.

In response to abellwether's question about reinforcing the reinforcers, it is a link that is often missing in trying to create a positive and productive workplace. Supervisors and managers are often left out as I have heard executives say, "They don't need it. It is their job." As Einstein's law of relativity states, "The laws of physice apply to all observers in uniform states of motion." May Einstein forgive my statement of his work. However, this question reminds me that whether we are managers of have non-management jobs the rules of reinforcement apply equally. The behavior of reinforcing is not natuarlly reinforcing or we would all be doing it. So I think you are wise to realize that those behaviors need strengthening. Understand that each managers reinforcers will be different, therefore no standardized list of reinforcers will work for everyone. One thing a boss should be reinforced for is knowing the reinforcers of the people who report to him/her. Remember the rules of reinforcement apply equally to all observers (employees and managers). Thanks for the question.

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