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Conditioning for Desired Behavior

Dec 7th, 2012 | By | Category: Nick Kemper's Blog

My 9-year-old son has written his letter to Santa, information pills and for the most part it read like an inventory sheet – various games for the Wii, thumb X-Box 360 and PS3. One of his birthday gifts last summer was a golden retriever puppy, so it warmed my heart to see that he asked Santa for something for his dog. After that, he asked Santa to please remember his family.

I don’t mind ranking after the dog – she needs to be lobbied for, having no way to write Santa herself.  To be honest, I was touched by his thoughtfulness to include others in his wish list. He also mentioned that he has been pretty good this year, and that he will try harder next year. I found that moving as well.

I found out later that he might have been coached on some of the content of the letter. Now for some, that might dilute the effect of the effort. Not for me. Even if suggestions were made, he would not have included anything he didn’t agree with or want to include. Also, I think it’s important to reward and celebrate the behaviors you want to see from your children, even if you (or your better half) has guided that behavior.

I think that there is absolutely nothing wrong with a little coaching. I find the same is true in managing employees. Some managers like to treat everything like a pop quiz. You tell an employee once what you expect, and if they don’t remember it consistently and forever you nail them on it. I just don’t see the value in that technique. It sounds like your agenda is to penalize employees rather than to operate a business profitably.

If you want to condition a behavior to occur or not occur, you nurture that conditioning. The simplest training method I’ve encountered is to demonstrate the proper technique and then have the employee drill – with assistance – until they can demonstrate proficiency. They might have to drill once or a hundred times. Once the behavior is demonstrated satisfactorily, you then remove every obstacle that you can from the path of the employee reproducing that behavior every time he or she has to reproduce it.

Here is an example: paperwork. You write up a customer invoice for an employee, show it to him or her, and then the next time you run a call together, you have the trainee write up the invoice. If there are errors, you correct them. Then you send them out on their own, and the first day out, all of their paperwork is messed up so you yell at them for not paying attention. The next day, you reprimand them. The third day, you penalize them.

How about, instead, you let them show you they really know how to do it, before they have to do it for real? Put them in a conference room, give them some examples of customer invoices done correctly, print out some call details from actual calls from your software program, and have them write up dummy invoices. Have them do this so many times that they can do at least 21 without error, without assistance (refer to my special Catch-21 Training Program). Keep copies of correctly-completed invoices posted in an area where employees can refer to them in the course of their workday. If they make errors on actual invoices after completing training, give them gentle, written reminders showing them what result you were looking for.

Here’s another example — this time for management: managers’ meetings. You hold meetings once a week, or once a month, or once a quarter, or when the mood strikes you. You show up at the last minute, glare at your harried management team, throw out a problem that’s been hurting your operation for some time and demand ideas from them. When they don’t come up with something new or brilliant within five minutes, you berate them.

How about, instead, you work up a meeting agenda one week ahead of time, distribute it to each attendee, and indicate what items on the agenda you are looking for feedback, input, ideas or data. The day before the meeting, you send out a meeting reminder. Then you bring copies of the agenda to the meeting for everyone in case they forgot theirs. After the meeting, you write up meeting minutes, highlighting contributions from your team members.

The idea here is not to babysit your employees, but to get the desired result you are looking for. This isn’t sophomore math class. It’s business, and coaching and training is an everyday activity. Are you setting your employees up to fail or succeed? And which pleases you more?

Me, I’m just happy that my kid has got my back with the Santa communication, and that mom’s got his back — a well-oiled machine.

Have a safe and profitable week.

Nick Kemper