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You get the behavior you reward. - by TimC

“I can’t believe it! They are changing the compensation program again.  This is the third time in three years.  Management just doesn’t want us to make any money.  They want to keep it all for themselves.” 


This phrase, or some mutation can be heard thousands of times a day throughout corporate America.  Somewhere in this vast country a sales rep is under-performing because of this sensitive and emotional topic.  It cuts to the core of one of the major frustrations and challenges facing managers in every in department, division and team where these managers are responsible for improving performance, revenue, customer satisfaction and/or profits.


“You get the behavior you reward.”  Let me give you a couple of recent examples from some of the clients I have worked with during the past few years.


The president confided in me during a coaching meeting that he was frustrated that his 150+ salespeople were only selling the products that created the highest sales volume and not necessarily the best profit margin.  I asked him, “How are your salespeople paid?”  His response, “The more they sell the more they make.”  Naturally I was curious so I asked as a follow-up, “is their compensation pegged in any way to increasing margins?”  “No.”  Well I responded with a big - DAAA and then shared the following concept with him.


All behavior is the result of a corresponding reward system or feedback mechanism.  If you have behavior you don’t want, by doing or saying nothing, you send the message to this person or group that this behavior is acceptable.  Therefore it is naïve to be surprised when you get more of it.  If you want behavior changed in any way it is necessary to bring that behavior to the attention of the person or group and then create an environment, policy or consequences where it is not in the best interests of the person or group to continue it.  If you want behavior continued it is also necessary to validate that behavior with positive reinforcement messages.


Another recent example had to do with dealing with a sales rep who felt he was above coming to weekly  training meetings because he was the top producer on the team.  When I was talking with the VP of Sales I asked her, “What are the consequences both positive and negative of not insisting that his participation is not a function of his sales results but is a requirement of his employment?”  “Yes, but what if he gets mad or defensive and quits.  I will lose my best performer.” 


“First of all you have to look at the consequences and precedents of having special dispensation for certain people based on certain circumstances and become aware of the message that if you do choose to have them sends a similar message to everyone else on the team or in the organization.  Secondly would you be willing to let everyone who is doing reasonably well miss your meetings? I doubt it.”  And third, “What are the messages you are sending to your best sales rep by permitting him to not attend?”  


“That he is special.  That he doesn’t need to be a part of the team.  That he doesn’t need to contribute to the meetings.  That he knows it all.  That he is better than everyone else.  And, that he can do whatever he wants when he feels like it.”  “Is this the message you want to send or reinforce to all of your other sales reps?  Probably not!”


There are two distinct outcomes when it comes to the simple yet profound management principle – you get the behavior you reward.  It also has implications in your family and with friends as well.


First there is the direct outcome and then the indirect.


Here is a specific example of the direct outcome.


You have a bonus structure in place in your department that rewards everyone the same as long as the sales team meets it’s quota.  On the surface this sounds straight forward however, when you look a little deeper using our concept – you get the behavior you reward – as a template and apply it against this issue you may come up with a whole other outcome.  Let’s try it.


What are the other possible consequences of this bonus approach when it comes to team performance or attitudes.


- They could rightly believe that – what’s the point of doing more than my share when the slackers get the same reward as I do by achieving my goals.


- It doesn’t matter how hard you work or how well you perform everyone gets the same benefits.


I doubt that this is the message that you want to send the rest of the members of your team however this is a legitimate attitude on their part and they will respond accordingly.


Let me give you one more real-life example of this concept that I guarantee is at work in your organization today.


It has to do with praise or recognition or the lack of it.  The VP of sales in one of my client organization’s has a habit of giving positive feedback to the best performers but very little if any to the rest of the team who every day are doing their best to achieve positive results.  This positive feedback has a way of telling the good performers that they are doing a great job – keep it up. Yes, this is necessary if you want them to continue these behaviors.  However, by not giving the average performers any positive reinforcement and always giving them only negative feedback on what they need to do better the message he is sending is that – you are not doing anything worthy of my positive feedback.  Their interpretation of this response could be that even though they are doing their best, it is never enough or is never right.  Now, I ask you if you worked in this environment what would your reaction be?


The indirect approach. 


Let’s say you have an employee that is late to every meeting you have.  You, for whatever reason choose not to say anything to that employee for fear of annoying them.  The message you send with your inaction or lack of holding them accountable is that they get the message that being late is acceptable behavior.  Trust me, they will continue to be late.  What is the indirect message you are sending to those people who were on time?  What could they be thinking?  Why bother to be on time, what’s the point, it doesn’t matter.  Guess what, some of your other employees will now start to adopt that same behavior and before you know it everyone is late to your meetings.


People want and need positive reinforcement.  Everyone, no matter what their results are, is doing something worthy of some praise.  The purpose of praise is not to inflate ego’s or single people out as better than anyone else.  Its only purpose is to send the message that the behavior is the type of behavior or attitudes that we want to see more of.  The purpose of negative feedback should not be to punish but change behavior.


It is important to remember that as a manager you role is not to motivate anyone.  It is to create a positive motivational climate where people will motivate themselves regardless of what is going on in their life, relationships or career.


Many managers react emotionally when these examples and hundreds more like them happen.  They will instigate mass punishment, change a policy, make a public statement and so on.  The problem with this approach is that it is meant for only the person who has the negative behavior yet many of the other good employees will take it as punishment aimed at them and they can rightly feel that you are over reacting.


There are numerous other consequences to this management style of behavior.  Let me just mention one that can have a seriously negative outcome.  If your employees believe that you are unable or unwilling to discipline or hold certain people accountable they will gradually lose respect for your management style and even begin to lose their trust of your ability to lead them.  This can lead to a breakdown in performance and productivity and I am confident you are aware of the consequences of this outcome.


Don’t risk it.  Learn to have standards of behavior and develop the courage and willingness to hold people accountable for rules and expectations.  Obviously if you don’t have standards, communicate them clearly or deviate from them you are setting yourself and your organization up for some pretty serious negative circumstances.

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