Accentuate the Positive

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Accentuate the Positive by Terry Greenhut

In the transmission business there are probably as many people management strategies as there are managers. Everyone has there own way of dealing with employees and the amount and quality of the work they want produced. Here I want to discuss a technique I’ve used for about twenty years that I’ve found to be extremely effective in motivating people to want to do their jobs right and produce even more than is required of them.

To begin with, the terms “Positive or Negative Reinforcement” deal with giving people the stimulus they need to move forward. People need motivators to get them to begin any action. These motivators are called “Antecedents”. They could be in the form of a verbal instruction or request. They could even be in the form of a threat. Like for example: “Do this or else”. In any event, they are factors that begin what is called a “Behavior”. A behavior is the accomplishment of the task that needs to be done. The third element that makes up any action is the “Consequence” which is no doubt the most important part of the action. The consequence determines how people handle the next action. If the consequence to a behavior is bad they will not be too quick to want to repeat that behavior. If, on the other hand, the consequence is good they will look forward to perform the behavior again.

A common management style that doesn’t work very well, opposite to what most managers believe, is the setting of goals or deadlines for their crews. The concept of “you need to produce so much by a certain time” is a negative motivator. It can actually hurt production even if people achieve the goal. You may wonder how that can be possible. Because it sends the message that “this amount of work finishes the job. It’s all you need to do.” It also carries with it the veiled threat that “if you don’t do it there may be major negative consequences.” That can make someone who might have produced more, stop when he or she reaches the goal, meaning that they worked hard all the way through the cycle and now have time left at the end with nothing to do. Another way that people handle goals and deadlines is to work nice and slowly until they feel it is just about “crunch” time. (the time they have left before the deadline in which they feel they can complete the assigned task or goal)

The problem with negative reinforcement isn’t that it doesn’t motivate people to get things done. It’s that it motivates them to only do what is necessary to get by. When they say to themselves, “Uh oh, if I don’t get this job done I might get fired or demoted”, they will probably get the job done but that’s about all. It won’t be their best effort; more than likely, just passable.

Those of us who have been around the transmission business for more than a day and a half know that “just passable” can’t get the job done. It does nothing to build our businesses. The only way that we can grow and prosper is by excellence. This concept must be believed in by owners and passed on to managers who will then elicit that type of performance from all the rest of the employees.

Excellence and high productivity it turns out are only achieved when people want to work. When they don’t come in only because there is a paycheck at stake, but because they know that what they do is appreciated, because there is a constant sense of accomplishment, and because there are foreseeable awards and rewards for their excellent performance.

The reason I stated earlier that I’ve been using the technique of positive reinforcement for about twenty years is that I started first using it with my daughter when she was just a toddler. Every good thing she did received praise. I would say, “Wow Dena, that’s great”, and watch her little eyes light up. Because the consequence of a good or properly done behavior was always positive she wanted to do more to receive that praise again. It works with her even to this day. Dena has become somewhat of a gourmet chef. She would really like to open her own restaurant someday. Whenever she cooks for me she always tries out something new. She’ll look at me across the table waiting for me to take the first bite. If I like it I make a big deal out of it and watch her little eyes light up just like they did when she was a kid.

When an employee is reluctant to perform a certain task. It is usually for one of three reasons. Either they don’t know how to do it, (or do it well) it is very dirty or physically or mentally demanding, or there is no foreseeable reward for doing it well or even right.

One of a manager’s primary functions is to make sure that his or her people are trained to perform the tasks at hand. Employees can never be productive if they don’t know what they’re doing. There is a major difference then between the phrases, “I can’t” and “I don’t want to”. If you assign someone a task that you have seen them accomplish in the past, the phrase, “I can’t” uttered by the employee either means that right now I’m not physically capable of doing it or “I don’t want to” which means that they don’t see anything good coming their way for their effort.

So as we now understand it, negative reinforcement gets the job done by the threat of penalty or punishment if goal is not accomplished while positive reinforcement gets it done by the employee seeing either an instant or a future reward for doing an excellent job. Which circumstance would motivate you to be at your best?

It’s been said that a “pat on the back” is just slightly north of a “kick in the butt”. So you have to be careful that the praise you give people for doing things well or right isn’t misconstrued as a veiled threat. The only way people will accept your praise is if it is consistent. It has to be genuine. You can’t go in next week and praise someone once for a good action and then not do it again. They will be looking for that praise the next time they repeat that good action. If they don’t receive it again they will think that what they’ve done is no longer worthy of your praise or maybe even that they have done something wrong which they might perceive will earn them some kind of a penalty or punishment. Either way you will begin to lose some of their trust.

You may feel that positive reinforcement deals with some kind of monetary reward for excellent behaviors, and sometimes it does. Pick an incentive program. There are only about eight zillion of them out there. But most positive reinforcement is instantaneous. It’s a kind word or an action that shows the employee just how much you appreciate the wonderful work they are doing. It can be as small of a monetary reward as buying the employee a cup of coffee or as big as providing him or her with a company car or a vacation in the Bahamas. The point is that it must be something, and on a continuing basis to keep the trust and productivity level high.

When people are interviewed for new jobs and are asked why they want to leave their present employment, one of the primary answers they give is that they did not feel that their contribution was appreciated. You see, it isn’t always about money like many of us tend to think. It’s more about feeling good about the jobs people do. It’s about a good and happy working environment where people want to come to work everyday. Where they don’t dread the next day’s tasks but look forward to accomplishing them and more. Where they are happy to see their boss, not in fear of what that boss might do if they screw something up.

It’s all up to you, as managers, what kind of a crew you will have. People always take their cues from higher up. If you set the example of a happy, enthusiastic, and quality oriented individual who makes people feel good about doing an excellent job, those people will respond with more and better productivity than you ever dreamed possible.

About the Author: Terry Greenhut is a highly sought after Automotive Aftermarket Sales Trainer and Key Note Speaker. He has authored numerous Automotive Aftermarket Sales Training Articles in many of the major automotive trade journals over the years. His best selling Automotive Aftermarket Sales Training Course is recognized as the industry standard. You can learn more about Terry by visiting his website at