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Managing People for Maximum Performance

Managing People for Maximum Performance

For more than two decades, I have been leading a two-day seminar for the Center for Management Research in Cambridge, MA.  The session has always been a popular one, particularly for executives and senior leaders, but what I enjoy most is the level of engagement that attendees display during the session, producing many "wows" and "ahas". After a short hiatus, my session is restarting this coming July.  As I began to prepare, it occurred to me that it may be worthwhile to share more publicly, some of the key points taught during the session that I believe are valuable for any leader:

  1. The number one challenge faced by most companies is getting employees to focus on what you need them to do in order to reach your organization’s goals.
  2. Regardless of industry, size of business or the organizational position, the laws of behavior are always the same.  The key is to ensure that you have the right consequences for the critical behaviors that will produce the desired results.
  3. One of the most popular topics, past, present and future is "how to create discretionary effort" from their employees. Through the proper use of positive reinforcement, people will consistently want to and do more than is expected of them, thus creating Discretionary Effort.
  4. Creativity is behavior and is subject to the same laws as all other behavior.  Creativity is not a mysterious talent that only a few people possess.

One final note; The past attendees of this session have come to understand how to make the personal behavior change at all levels of management that is necessary to achieve success in maximizing organizational performance, a critical indicator of their leadership impact.  I've said it a million times but it always bears repeating; performance begins and ends with your people, and more specifically, their behavior.  Because of the level of competition in the marketplace today, understanding the science of behavior is more important than ever.  Those who understand it best will ultimately be the ones that come out on top.

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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.


I fully agree with your observations. We are Skinner's conditioned rat at the end of the day in a corporate maze! I just wonder how much does "intrinsic" motivation affect the Discritionary Effort or Creativity than "extrinsic" motivation for an individual? Does external organisation environment actually drives desired behaviour if internally individual is not receptive?

Discretionary effort is “intrinsic motivation.” Think of reinforcement flowing outside/inside, not the other way as most people think. I made up a saying about this: “You can’t be proud of yourself till someone has been proud of you.” On your other question, as best we know, the external environment always affects the internal one either positively or negatively. Receptivity is a function of reinforcement history. If your previous reinforcement history has made you suspicious of corporate activity, then you are not likely to respond favorably to any attempts by the company to positively reinforce your activity. However, the organization’s attempt to change your behavior may not produce the behavior desired by the company but it will affect your behavior, possibly make you more cynical of what you might consider to be attempts to manipulate you. Attempts at positive reinforcement are not to be considered the same as positive reinforcement.

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