Creating an Achievement Culture

I have often said, “The best job you will ever have is one where you know at the end of every day how well you have done.”  The students at Morningside Academy can wholeheartedly agree that this statement holds true, but, most people reading this blog probably cannot.

Morningside Academy in Seattle is a behaviorally-based laboratory school for elementary and middle school students who have academic problems.  Students get a report card every day.  While many would think that impractical, Morningside teachers do it as a matter of course.  Teachers know what success looks like for every student and each student knows how much they achieved at the end of the school day.  Would you be surprised to learn that Morningside gives parents a money-back guarantee?   If the student doesn’t gain at least two years in the area of greatest deficit at the end of the school year they can ask for a refund.  In over 30 years less than one percent of parents have asked for their money back because achievement at Morningside approaches three years progress per school year.

The daily report card is not responsible for the outstanding academic progress.  It is simply a lagging measure of what goes on during the day.  First, there is an expectation that every child will learn during the day.  Second, the teacher is measured on the success of the students.  Third, students can see their accomplishments because the students track their performance.  Fourth, students receive hundreds, if not thousands, of positive reinforcers for improvement each day.

Achievements are naturally positively reinforcing.  For most employees, knowing that you completed a task in an efficient, timely, and quality way usually produces feelings of pride and satisfaction.  But the business environment is complex and there are way too many jobs today that don’t naturally produce that kind of information and feedback.  Because of such, companies run the risk of creating employees who easily become bored, burned out, and lackadaisical—which typically results in mediocre or poor performance.  Alternatively, organizations whose jobs include reinforcement for accomplishments can be said to have an achievement culture whereby employees enthusiastically produce high performance.

The question is, how do you create one?  Here are six ways to get started:

  • Let the performer design the accomplishments for the job. Employees who jointly work with managers to define their job goals are more satisfied when they reach them; and more apt to include more challenging goals as they experience success along the way.
  • Work jointly with the performer to develop measures. Measuring performance allows employees to experience positive reinforcement for improvement; therefore, believe it or not, they want to be measured because measures afford more opportunities for reinforcement.
  • Track progress. Tracking your own progress creates immediate feedback and many opportunities to change or accelerate valuable behaviors.
  • Provide social reinforcement for progress. When observing behavior, it is always appropriate to reinforce correct responding.  For most employees, knowing that the boss knows about it is reinforcing in and of itself.
  • Provide occasional rewards for accomplishments. If you know the personal reinforcers of employees you should intermittently provide some tangible reward such as time-off, meals, money, or other items or events that are meaningful to the performer.
  • Repeat the process for ongoing or new accomplishments. The key to creating an achievement culture is to know that the process never ends.  Make adjustments any time you see that results are not what you need.  Always involve the performer in the changes.  Let employees suggest them.  Be a mentor. Assist rather than direct, yet challenge them to reach higher levels of performance.

It may seem challenging, but once you get going, an achievement culture is almost self-sustaining.  As the saying goes, “Success breeds success.” While it takes hard work to get it going, it is well worth the effort in business results and the satisfaction and personal pride that it creates for everyone involved.

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.