A Process for Positive Actions?

Public service announcements promote desired values and behavior and discourage unhealthy or undesired behavior with varying degrees of efficacy, ranging from the failure of mixed messages to well-publicized successes. “The creation of policies that give people a legal or financial reason to change their unhealthy behavior provide additional motivation and discourage such behaviors,” writes Zak Koeske for UPI. Research by Martin Fishbein, Ph.D., Kathleen Hall-Jamieson, Ph.D., Eric Zimmer, Ph.D., Ina von Haeften, Ph.D., and Robin Nabi, Ph.D., concurs with the assertion of limited efficacy and states “The effectiveness of these types of messages, however, depends on both the desired behavior and the target population.” Their research tested 30 public service announcements targeted toward adolescents scattered among seven schools. The result:

While most of the 30 PSAs we considered did, in fact, make adolescents think that they and their friends would be less likely to use drugs or that they would be more confident about how to handle situations in which drugs were offered or available, there were several that had little or no effect and 6 that had negative effects.

Of course, most such announcements focus on discouraging undesirable action. Society further discourages undesirable action through legal means. Schools and volunteer organizations write codes of conduct that primarily focus on deterring unwanted behavior. Businesses publish employee codes of conduct that define intolerable behavior and the consequences thereof, up to and including termination of employment. Relatively few policies encourage specific desirable behaviors and research for this article found no processes published for the promotion of desired behavior.

Positive reinforcement serves as the go-to method for conditioning employees to act in the best interests of the company and their coworkers. It focuses less on wrong action and more on rewarding correct or desired action. This is the carrot added to the stick, because positive reinforcement never occurs without deterrents promising punitive consequences for failure to comply.

Training Industry advises incorporating positive reinforcement even when taking an employee to task, being sure to mention something positive while addressing the problem to be resolved. Experts also caution against the appearance of favoritism, which can include lavishing praise upon one person or groups of persons above all others to rewarding positive behavior more extravagantly for one person than for others. Preferential treatment encourages resentment and lowers morale.

Talent Culture offers additional tactics in facilitating behavioral changes in the workplace: coaching, tackling one issue at a time, positive reinforcement, leading by example, and creating collective goals. That last relies on peer pressure to compel an individual to act in a desired way, such as when a company promises a free lunch if every employee contributes to a particular charity or cause. If some desired actions don’t manifest, ask why. The answer could be as simple as a lack of understanding or gap in training.

Make sure to specify the actions you want–as well as don’t want–not so much as to impose a “Big Brother” type of micromanagement upon the people who work for you, but to foment a civil and productive workplace. Like old fashioned guides on polite manners, such a code of desired behavior may include examples of civil or boorish behavior and the desired response, or even a general flowchart of which silverware to use with which course. Incorporation of the above-mentioned tactics into your company’s process guides correct behavior requires more than lip service. If you don’t model the behavior you want, then you won’t get it from your employees.