Ask Aubrey: Performance Feedback


"Could you clarify why you do not consider Performance Feedback a type of reinforcement? I don't understand how Performance Feedback is an antecedent when it seems the behavior is what triggers that feedback. Additionally, wouldn't telling someone that they're doing a good job at a certain task be both performance feedback and (social) positive reinforcement?"


Aubrey's Answer

I am assuming that the performance feedback to which you refer is some graphic display showing a history of performance, where a person can see where they have been, where they are and where they are going. When positive reinforcement is paired with this performance feedback, the feedback becomes a secondary reinforcer. With enough pairings, the person usually gets reinforcement from seeing the graph even in the absence of others.

You cannot assume that performance feedback is positive to every employee. Feedback is information about performance that will allow the person to change that performance. It is quite possible that there are employees who don't care about improving. This comes from not liking the supervisor, not trusting the supervisor or not caring about the success of the supervisor. I remember years ago, a young supervisor gathered his team together following a management meeting. He told the gathering of employees that "they told me in the meeting that if we don't improve quality, that they are going to run me off." One of the employees spoke up and said, "We don't care if they run you off!" If a supervisor doesn't establish himself/herself as a reinforcer as a first order of business, employees will not be concerned with their priorities and will not be able to develop a team where people want to help. (This is typically referred to as "buy-in.")

If telling a person he or she is doing a good job is a positive reinforcer, then the behavior that is affected is the behavior that is occurring at that time. This is why one must be careful about when you say that to people. If you tell someone that they are doing a good job when they are on break, as much as people would like to believe that it will impact performance, it is not likely. They may like you more because of you having done it but it is really a stretch to think it will change behavior that has not yet occurred.

For a more detailed explanation read Performance Management

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.