Four Basic Reinforcement Strategies in Organizational Behavior Modification

by Kevin Johnston; Updated September 26, 2017

Managers must always seek to mold employee behaviors to achieve better contributions to the company. This can involve supporting positive behaviors or reducing negative behaviors. Once your business has made a commitment to specific goals and the behaviors that will support the achievement of those goals, planning and training of management is required. Improvised responses to employee behaviors can result in confusion and continued behavior problems.

Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement means providing rewards for good behavior. This can come in the form of bonuses or extra benefits, but positive reinforcement can involve smaller and simpler rewards. For example, a verbal acknowledgement of a job well done can help reinforce positive actions. Awards and trophies for outstanding employees often encourage high-performing employees. On a more formal level, promotions and title changes can show employees that their long-term positive behaviors can pay off through growing with the company.

Negative Reinforcement

Negative reinforcement is not punishment. Negative reinforcement is the withholding of punishment. For example, if an employee has been in danger of being demoted and improves her behavior, deciding not to demote her is negative reinforcement. The key here is the reinforcement, the encouraging of a behavior. The manager withholds the negative consequences as a sign that the employee has made a change in behavior.

Punishment

Punishment is an undesirable consequence an employee receives for bad behavior. This can involve actions like demoting the employee or suspending the employee. A manager may put an employee on probation pending a change in behavior. In addition, the employee may lose overtime privileges or consideration for raises.

Extinction

Extinction is the elimination of a behavior. This type of behavior modification should be reserved for the most damaging behaviors. When you want an immediate and complete stop to unwanted actions, such as smoking on the job or using sexual innuendo, offer the most severe punishment, such as firing, if you see any more of the behavior. You should make the consequences clear and make sure employees know there will be zero tolerance.

Plan Ahead

Train your managers in the four types of behavior modification strategies, so they will have a repertoire of responses at their fingertips. This will help eliminate anger and frustration as motivators for management behavior, and replace these with level-headed strategies designed to improve the workforce.

About the Author

Kevin Johnston writes for Ameriprise Financial, the Rutgers University MBA Program and Evan Carmichael. He has written about business, marketing, finance, sales and investing for publications such as "The New York Daily News," "Business Age" and "Nation's Business." He is an instructional designer with credits for companies such as ADP, Standard and Poor's and Bank of America.