Inspections, quality checks and punch lists, construction encourages people to watch for what other people do wrong. But, what if you try to catch people doing things right?
That’s a question posed by management teacher Ken Blanchard years ago, and it’s still inspiring leaders today. Evidence supports the idea that when you focus on catching people doing things right, you shift the focus of those around you.
Take, for example, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police force in Richmond, British Columbia, Canada. In 2012, Canada’s third-largest police force had a big problem with juvenile crime. Part of the answer to turning the statistics around was to issue citations when police caught youths doing things right.
The police gave out 40,000 such citations in one year, three times as many as violations citations. Youth service calls fell by half and about 1,000 kids stayed out of the criminal justice system. As an added benefit, law enforcement warmed its image, and many young people stopped viewing the police as enemies.
Ken Blanchard, author of “The One Minute Manager,” recently updated the book to reflect all the changes that had happened in American business. In 1982, people were using intercoms, and leadership largely operated in a command and control style. Today, technology is radically altering how we work while businesses increasingly adopt collaborative working environments.
But of all the changes Blanchard made to the book, one aspect remained the same: The idea that you can create, nurture, and repair relationships by catching people doing things right. And, while this feel-good approach to leading might seem implausible in construction, not using it might be one of the biggest reasons your firm has disengaged employees.
As Bill Taylor, co-founder of Fast Company Magazine, wrote in Harvard Business Review: “Leaders who engage in relentless fault-finding can’t help but lead to a culture of bloodless execution. Leaders who celebrate small acts of kindness, (and) who reward moments of connection, give everyone permission to look for opportunities to have a genuine human impact.”
“Leaders who celebrate small acts of kindness, (and) who reward moments of connection, give everyone permission to look for opportunities to have a genuine human impact.”– Bill Taylor, Co-founder of Fast Company Magazine
You might already be raring to go out and start catching everybody doing things right. But, like every employee initiative, there are a few rules.
Dos and Don’ts
First of all, don’t confuse catching people doing things right with rewarding them. In fact, according to workplace positivity expert Bill Sims, Jr. president of The Bill Sims Company, Inc., giving out one-size-fits-all rewards erodes commitment and breeds mediocrity. If everybody eventually becomes employee of the month, it’s not really an individual recognition.
Even more importantly, lose the habit of ignoring workers until they do something wrong. Sims calls that the “leave alone/zap” trap. Such an attitude only gets you a temporary behavior change and a good dose of resentment as the worker wonders why you never said anything about everything they did right.
Don’t practice it sparingly, either. According to researchers, teams with the best performance get over five times more positive than negative reinforcement. Of the four types of positive reinforcement, the best two are natural and social. That’s because they are intrinsic motivators arising from the internal desire to act or perform in a certain way.
The Flavors of Reinforcement
Natural reinforcement happens automatically when an employee gets the work right. They feel a sense of accomplishment and pride in knowing their skills are valuable. You have likely played a role in that when you made sure they got the proper training and the right tools.
Social reinforcement, on the other hand, comes from others, for example, a boss, coworker, or project owner. This type of positive reinforcement makes a person feel confident and helpful. It’s also highly valuable if you get this working within your teams as groups start to reinforce positive behavior all on their own.
So, instead of focusing on what’s wrong and repairing it, begin by looking for what’s right and reinforcing that positive behavior. And if anybody snickers about it, just smile and say, “You’ll catch the idea.”