How to really accentuate the positive in Employee Engagement.
by David Zinger
Part 1 of a 2 Part Interview
Jerry Pounds is a management consultant with over 30 years of experience in applying positive reinforcement, reward, and recognition strategies to business and industry. He has written and spoken on the application and problematic nature of corporate motivational and rewards programs and personally trained thousands of executives, managers, and supervisors in the use of praise and rewards. Jerry is a thoughtful and engaging blogger and writes Positive Influence a blog that offers positive strategies that encourage employee engagement.
1. Jerry, what got you so interested and involved in positive strategies to encourage employee engagement?
While I was working my way through college, I got a job as a clinical assistant at a psychiatric hospital that used behavior modification. Positive reinforcement was used to encourage behaviors that would get the patients back into the community as productive people.
In 1971 I began consulting to business and industry—where the command and control leadership model promoted a “that’s what the hell that get paid for,” approach to managing people. That model did not work; I knew that positive reinforcement would work to elicit high levels of engagement and performance. Having worked at hourly jobs for several years, I knew what it was like to work for punitive, authoritarian supervisors.
2. What are 3 to 5 key actions a manager can take to encourage employee engagement?
- Treat all of your direct reports with respect. I think real engagement is emotional commitment to the company which is direct product of your relationship to your supervisor. The supervisor’s verbal and non-verbal behavior has to send the message that they respect the employee, even when they are presenting corrective feedback. You have to be in charge of your emotions and be aware of your own behavior—the effect it has on others. Envision a moral leader—someone you respect and honor—and talk to everyone as if you were talking to him or her. I use Albert Schweitzer.
- Talk to your employees—I mean talk, not lecture or posture. Show an active interest in their daily job life. I don’t mean socialize, although that’s fine at some level. I mean talk to them about the job, safety, their work, systems, processes, resources—give them feedback about what they have done that is contributory; let them know what they need to do differently
- Learn how to listen—one of the hardest things for anyone in a position of authority to do. Talking at people becomes a habit. Listening is one of the best ways to positively reinforce people. Look them in the eye, nod your head as they speak, and punch good comments with—“Right; uh huh; that’s great; how did that work…?” Attention is a positive reinforcer that we don’t use tactically.
3. What is the strength of a behavioral model to focus on engagement?
The behavioral model has been misinterpreted as a prescription for praise. I don’t like that word when used in the work setting—and neither do managers or employees. Providing employees with objective positive and corrective feedback is good for them and for business.
The behavioral model points out the value of managing behavior in addition to results. Results are easy to throw plaques and tangible rewards at; managing (strengthening critical safe or productive behavior) requires a manager to be where the work is being done—where employees are behaving. It requires the manager to provide some form of positive verbal or non-verbal consequence for employee behavior that is linked to safety, quality, or customer service.
If you talk to your employees frequently (several times a week) and weave performance coaching feedback into the dialog, it has the proper effect. Noting the things an employee did right is positive reinforcement—most of the time. Walking out into the workplace every week or so and saying something appreciatory about something they did comes across as insincere and manipulative.
Positive reinforcement, recognition, and rewards can be perceived as gimmicks if they are not delivered properly. Nobody wants to work for someone who is using tactics with them—trying scripted approaches to get them to work harder. Nobody wants to work for someone who cannot talk and listen respectfully, treat them with dignity and behave like a human. You have to be able to say, “I’m sorry, I made a mistake.” Or, “You were right about X, I should have listened to you.”