Workzone: Positive reinforcement a powerful management tool

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The majority of bosses in corporate America are famous for what workplace consultant Bill Sims Jr. calls Leave Alone/Zap management.

“Simply put, it means that we leave employees alone and say nothing when they do something right, but we are quick to ‘zap’ or to punish them when they make a mistake,” said Mr. Sims, president of the Bill Sims Co., a Columbia, S.C., leadership consulting firm that specializes in helping companies create positive work cultures.

Harnessing the power of positive reinforcement is the quickest and most efficient way to a better workplace culture, he said. But it starts at the top with company leaders. The way they act and behave will be mirrored by employees.

“Our work starts at the top with the leaders,” Mr. Sims said. “But by the time we’re done, we’ll be all the way at the bottom. Where we win or lose the war is with the front-line superviors and the workers who get the job done.

“We’ve had 100 years of research that repeatedly has said what matters most to people is not the size of their paycheck but regularly receiving positive reinforcement for good work. Seventy percent of workers never hear those words come out of their boss’ mouth.”

Over the past 30 years in the workplace consulting business, Mr. Sims said his company has developed more than 1,000 behavior modification systems that use positive reinforcement. The systems are used by leading corporations such as Dupont, Disney and UAW/Ford.

Even as employers appear reluctant to increase hiring, a survey by Chicago executive coaching consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. found the majority of companies are committed to retaining the workers they have.

In the survey of human resources professionals, 80 percent said their companies were focused on employee engagement, and 67 percent said the focus on engagement is greater now than it was before the recession.

“As the job market continues to improve, albeit slowly, more and more workers are starting to seek new opportunities. In recognition of this, employers are stepping up their efforts to hold on to the talent that was critical in helping the company survive the downturn,” said John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

“However, as many companies understand, retention is not merely a matter of salary hikes and fancy perks. It’s about taking steps to ensure that employees feel they are valued, challenged, and that their contributions impact the bottom line,” he said. “That’s what engagement is about — forming a bond between the employee and the employer.”

Mr. Sims said what he has learned from helping so many companies is that without positive reinforcement, you are getting less performance from your team than you could be and your workplace culture will suffer.

“It’s only a matter of time before some other company does it better and leaves you in the dust, taking your good employees with them,” he said.

“When you treat your employees like people with dignity and respect, it’s amazing what they will do for you that they don’t have to do.”

Tim Grant: or 412-263-1591

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