The Art of Strengths Coaching

R is for Rewarding The Behaviour You Want Repeated

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“Reward the behaviour you want repeated,” is one of the basic rules of psychology. The principle applies whether you are encouraging people in a team, organisation or the wider society.

Imagine that you have been given the mandate to lead an organisation that aims to shift its culture and achieve success.

You will need to communicate the guidelines that people can follow to reach the goals. These need to be specific, rather than as a set of woolly statements. It is also good to outline the reasons for following these guidelines.

Good leaders recognise that the carrot is mightier than the stick as a means of encouraging people to achieve peak performance. Such leaders also act quickly, however, if some people choose not to opt in. So after communicating the guidelines:

They encourage the behaviour the organisation wants repeated.

They act decisively regarding behaviour the organisation does not want repeated.

They do whatever is required to guide the organisation to success.

Let’s explore some steps for making this happen.

Communicating the behaviour that people need to
demonstrate to help 
the organisation to achieve success

Good leaders give clear messages about how they expect people to behave. They follow this credo and are prepared to accept the consequences.

Imagine you are leading an organisation. Start by clarifying the behaviour people need to demonstrate to make the organisation successful.

You are really outlining the guidelines – The Dos – that people need to follow to reach the goal. So you may want to say to people:

Do be positive and take responsibility.

Do make clear working contracts about your contributions towards achieving the organisation’s goals.

Do perform superb work, find solutions to challenges and encourage other people.

Do keep others up-to-date with how you are progressing towards achieving the goals.

Do whatever is required to ensure the organisation reaches its goals.

The Don’ts will probably be the reverse side of these behaviours. So you may want to say to people:

Don’t avoid taking responsibility.

Don’t be negative.

Don’t produce poor quality work.

Clarify why it is important for people to follow these guidelines. People are more likely to opt in if they see the reasons for behaving in certain ways. Some people may choose not to opt in, of course, but that will produce consequences.

Let’s assume you are clear on the guidelines you would like people to follow. You can then aim to do three things.

To be a positive model – because people learn from what you do, not what you say.

To communicate the guidelines that people can follow to help the organisation to achieve success.

To explain the reasons why it is important for people to follow these guidelines.

Imagine you are a leader who wants to set a new tone in a team or an organisation. Try completing the following exercises.

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Continually rewarding the
behaviour you want repeated

Different people encourage others in different ways. You may see somebody doing something well, for example, and have a special word with the person.

Be super specific about the behaviour – or the principles – you want them to repeat. The more specific you are, the more likely people are to repeat the behaviour.

One soccer manager, for example, explained to a winger at half time the specific things the player was doing well. Instead of just saying “You are playing well,” he explained:

“The way you beat their full back 3 times in the first half was excellent. You dummied to move inside, but then changed direction to go down the right wing and put in dangerous crosses.

“I want you to do that again at least 5 times in the second half. It’s up to you how you beat the full back. But I want you to get to the by-line and put in at least 5 crosses. Is that okay?”

Sharing Success Stories

A good way of rewarding the behaviour you want repeated is to use Success Stories. Different organisations use different frameworks for publicising such stories. Here is one approach.

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Dealing with the behaviour
you don’t want repeated

How to act when somebody steps over the line? Each person will have their own approach, but here are the three options.

You can give the person a positive alternative.

You can say, for example: “In the future can you please do (x) rather than (y). The reason is because …” This gives the person a positive way forward in the future.

You can act immediately and practice zero tolerance.

You may feel it is vital to do this if a person’s behaviour contravenes a team’s agreed rules. It is important to never walk past a quality problem, otherwise you have said it is okay.

You can give the person a warning, outline the consequences of repeating the behaviour and be prepared to follow-through. 

You may believe that it is vital – and moral – to give the person another chance. The key is to make sure the person knows that you are serious. Hence some leaders have the approach of ‘three strikes and you are out’. You will, however, draw the line in your own way.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to describe the specific things you can do to act decisively regarding the behaviour you don’t want repeated.

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“Reward the behaviour you want repeated,” may sound an over-simple philosophy, but it works in many situations.

People soon get the message about the desired culture and ‘the way we will do things round here’. They can then channel their efforts towards helping the organisation to achieve success.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe the specific things you can do to reward the behaviour you want repeated. 

Describe the specific benefits of doing these things.

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