4 Key Principles for Developing a Reinforcement Plan

Posted by Don Harrison on Wed, May 15, 2019 @ 01:10 PM

Have you recently undergone a major, organizational change? Maybe it was a new technology, a new innovation or a continuous improvement initiative, or perhaps it was a shared services implementation. No matter the type of change, chances are a lot of time and money were put into the project. But, after the “go-live” date has passed, I challenge you to look around your organization. Are employees actually using the new processes? Or are they busy creating work arounds? I’m guessing more of the latter, yes? Reinforcement in the Workplace

What does it take to actually change behaviors and move to the future from the gravitational pull of the status quo? I can answer that in one simple phrase. "If you do not change the Reinforcement, you do not get the change." It’s a simple, but a profound concept that is very often missed when organizations are implementing changes.


Building a Reinforcement Plan

There is a fundamental principle of human behavior that says people follow the Reinforcement. In other words, every time you see a behavior, there either is or was a reward for it. That’s why one of the key elements of the AIM Change Management methodology is to develop a Reinforcement Strategy.

When I talk about Reinforcement, I am referring to the following three ways the behaviors you seek to see are encouraged:

  • There are positive consequences for desired behavior
  • There are negative consequences for failing to change
  • Adoption of the new behaviors is easier, while the old ways are harder

People will change their behavior more quickly when there are positive rewards for the desired behavior, balanced with negative consequences for failing to change. You can't expect people to be motivated to make the leap to the unknown unless there is a strong motivation to do things in the new way. Here are three steps to help ensure behavior change occurs:

  • Decrease rewards for old behaviors; increase rewards for new behaviors
  • Increase consequences for old behaviors; decrease consequences for new behaviors
  • Increase the level of effort for the old behaviors; decrease the level of effort for the new behaviors

Four Key Principles for Reinforcement

By following the four key principles of Reinforcement below from the Accelerating Implementation Methodology (AIM), and by applying them tactically throughout your project on an ongoing basis, you will be much more likely to motivate individuals to change their behavior.

  • Reinforcement needs to be from the Frame of Reference of the individual.
    For any Reinforcement to impact behavior, it must have meaning or value for the individual you are trying to motivate. But, don’t assume you know what is meaningful to someone! Sometimes the best option is to ask!

    Tip: The AIM Targeted Reinforcement Index Change Management Tool is a great resource to help your Sponsors and Change Agents identify which specific rewards will be meaningful for the Targets of your change.
  • Reinforcements must be applied as soon as possible following the behavior and must be directly connected to that behavior.
    You will never drive change if you just change the semi-annual performance review-- it's way too infrequent. Reinforcement management is much less about your formal compensation and performance management systems and much more about the daily interaction between a manager and his or her direct report.
  • Employees must perceive there will be a higher likelihood of positive consequences for at least attempting to achieve results, versus negative consequences for making mistakes.
    Why? Because people tend to focus on the negative much more than on the positive. Most people have experienced a situation where there was lots of positive feedback for some work effort, and just one, single negative comment. What sticks in our heads? That one negative comment, of course!
  • A menu of Reinforcements needs to be developed and applied.
    One of the major contributions Change Agents can make is to help Reinforcing Sponsors to develop a menu of Reinforcements. In fact, it's one of the most important elements of good Sponsor Contracting. Reinforcements can be just about anything and as long as they are meaningful from the frame of reference of the Target. Here’s a list of just a few examples of Reinforcements you can use:

    - Assignment of new tasks or duties
    - Larger inter-departmental role
    - Public recognition
    - Relief from unpleasant tasks
    - Awards

People are motivated to change by meaningful Reinforcements. It’s why I always say, Reinforcement is the power lever for getting better, faster change. So, if you want people to change what they are doing, you have to alter the Reinforcements! It’s just that simple.

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Topics: Reinforcement, Accelerating Implementation Methodology (AIM)