Would you like a chocolate?
The core to a behavioural approach to change is the need to understand the behaviours that are currently happening in a business and why they are occurring. Underpinning this is Reinforcement Theory – a theory of motivation that seeks to explain how people choose certain behaviours rather than others. It is a theory that can be extremely useful in understanding behaviour and in identifying the type of strategy we need to adopt to deliver real business results.
Positive consequences reinforce behaviour
The basic proposition in Reinforcement Theory is that our choice of behaviour can be explained in terms of its functionality in producing desirable outcomes. In short, we choose behaviours to achieve things. Certain (positive) consequences reinforce behaviour and make it more likely to reoccur whereas negative consequences act as punishers and deter a person from behaving in that way again.
Why do they do that?!
In the context of any working environment, ensuring that correct behaviours are followed by positive consequences serves to reinforce the likelihood that they will be repeated. Similarly, seeing people consistently engaging in unhelpful behaviour suggests that those behaviours are being reinforced in some way. This approach enables us to both understand why people choose to act the way they do and also to suggest how we can intervene to make a difference.
The power of consequences
There are 4 key aspects of reinforcement theory that are central to understanding how it might be applied:
- Behaviour is influenced by two variables: antecedents that precede the behaviour and act as behavioural prompts; and consequences that follow the behaviour and are meaningful or important for the person.
- There are four different consequences: positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, punishment and extinction. Positive reinforcement is the most effective in terms of generating voluntary (want to) behaviour and is the key to influencing a change in behaviour.
- The power of a consequence depends on 3 characteristics:
- value to the individual (positive or negative)
- immediacy in occurrence (immediately after the behaviour or sometime in the future)
- probability of occurrence following the behaviour (certain to follow the behaviour or uncertain).
- Consequences occur in 3 different forms each of which have implications for a consequence management strategy:
- natural consequences result from our interaction with the world around us (the location of my desk can make me hot and uncomfortable in summer)
- social consequences are the result of our interactions with others (praise, recognition, interest in us, challenge, criticism etc)
- tangible consequences tend to be manufactured outcomes (prizes, rewards, punishments, sanctions)
Getting more of what you like
Bearing the above in mind, MadAbout look at businesses to understand the types and volumes of both antecedents and consequences applied to employees within the organisation in addition to the systems, processes and data analysis that drives certain behaviours. This perspective is then applied to recommendations that we make; ultimately we seek to increase the likelihood of actions being delivered through application of positive consequences for the employees.