‘Consequences’ Articles

Leveraging the 4:1 Ratio—In Sports and in Business

Leveraging the 4:1 Ration in sports and businessIt’s built into what we do with our clients, in understanding and applying the science of behavior.  While it may not seem revolutionary, correctly applying the 4:1 Ratio matters and does affect your outcome.

By definition, the 4:1 Ratio is four positives to one negative (or constructive).  What many don’t understand is that in order to shape the behavior you want, you must provide enough positive reinforcement for that behavior to become consistent. This is a great tool to use in business, sports, and even at home. 

Here are two great examples: Business and Sports.

If you want behavior to change, leverage the 4:1.

Want Discretionary Effort? 10 Things to Avoid in the New Year

Discretionary EffortIt’s that time of year when we are inundated with what we should do to start the new year off right. I would be remiss if I didn’t offer advice of my own; the only difference is these are things we should avoid all year round and are essential if you want to earn discretionary effort.

Read entire post at Talent Management Magazine.

More on Discretionary Effort…

Does Money Make You Smart?

j0385807This post originally appeared on Aubrey’s blog 8-19-09 

Let’s say that you make business decisions where the impact on the future of the business is not well-thought out. The decisions are praised by Wall Street but, even so, turn out to waste the resources of the business over the long term. Let’s also say that in an effort to grow the company fast, you buy assets above market value to close the deals quickly, hire talented employees and pay them outlandish wages in order to get up and running as soon as possible. You also have little understanding of how to effectively motivate people but believe that money is most effective. In particular, you believe that money will buy you the right talent, since you believe money is what matters most to talented people. Therefore, you either use salary, bonuses or other perks to motivate them.Then let’s say that as the result of current economic conditions, your company has fallen on hard times in no small part due to the excesses created by your growth strategy and financial excesses. (more…)

Fast Company article on “Stack Ranking”

Motivating EmployeesIt’s hard to believe but Stack Ranking has found its way back into corporations as a means for motivating employees. What will it take for leaders to understand that this practice doesn’t work and in fact produces the opposite effect of what was intended?

I tackle this topic and offer tips for what organizations should do in this latest article in Fast Company: The Evils of ‘Stack Ranking’ and What Companies Should do Instead.

I encourage you to not only read it but share it with others and engage in a discussion about what truly motivates employees to give their best.


Rank and Yank: Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet?

Rank and YankJack Welch joined the fray about Microsoft’s abandoning “rank and yank” in a Wall Street Journal op-ed titled “Jack Welch: ’Rank and Yank’? That’s Not How It’s Done.”   Welch now says that rank and yank was media-created and that it should be more appropriately referred to as “differentiation,” which is a much more caring, humane and employee-centered appraisal process.  I was around when Welch was in his heyday at GE and when every word that Jack said in public ended up in lead articles in magazines and newspapers or on TV and I never remember hearing the word “differentiation.”  What I remember was that Welch had little confidence in his managers’ ability to give employees bad news.  Consequently, he created a system to force them to do what they were unlikely to do effectively: deal with poor performance.

The problem is that differentiation as Welch describes it is not much better than “rank and yank.”  There are critical flaws in both. Whether it is called rank and yank or differentiation, it is the structure and assumptions about human behavior that have made it the most dreaded activity for managers and employees at thousands of businesses worldwide.  While I appreciate that Welch wants his systems to seem more caring, compassionate, etc., he knows better than anyone that in the end it is not about intention but impact.

Lest those who read Mr. Welch’s description of the way differentiation should work actually attempt to implement his ideas, let me take his points one by one and offer a different opinion – one that is based on the science of behavior.

First, there are two things in the op-ed that I agree with:  1. Candor is essential; and 2. Every employee needs to know where he/she stands.  Below are some of the assumptions that Welch claims make differentiation a better, more effective process than the dreaded rank and yank.  Welch claims:

  1. The 20-70-10 distribution is not set in stone – But the ranking or the rating on some curve is set in stone!  It is the heart of the system.  I don’t know where Welch came up with the 20-70-10 distribution, but I doubt if it is data-based.  No company that I know of hires people on a distribution like that.  Would we hire someone who we expect to be at the bottom?  Everyone we hire is expected to be at the top.  Yet no company I know of is happy when all people are rated at the top. That is because we believe performance appraisals of any kind are motivational.  They are not.  Demotivating?  Bet on that.  He says no one thinks that grading in school is cruel.  I don’t want to get started on that because I don’t have enough space to scratch the surface of education. Just let me say that it borders on criminal to promote a student to the next grade when he/she got mostly Cs and Ds.  I believe that the only grade in school should be an A and every student should be coached till he earns it.  (Read my blogs for more on this subject.)
  2. Differentiation’s performance appraisals are not about the numbers – If you believe that one, as the saying goes, I have a bridge in Brooklyn I will sell you real cheap.  All traditional appraisals are about the numbers.  Appraisal of behaviors is rolled into the final number that determines the ranking.  How can you have a ranking without numbers?  Of course, it is about the numbers.
  3. The middle 70 percent know that they are appreciated – Wrong again.  The 70 percent are not idiots.  They are in the middle, and they have been taught that is mediocre.  Who strives to be mediocre?  What they also know is that those in the top 20percent will almost always be in the top 20percent and they will always be in the 70percent.  Motivational?  I don’t think so.
  4. Differentiation management evaluates employees at least once (and preferably twice) a year – The data are clear that annual appraisals do little to change performance.  I do agree that we need to talk to everyone about where they are and where they want to be, but that does not need to be in the form of a performance appraisal.  As I have said often, “The best job you will ever have is one where you know at the end of every workday how well you have done.”  Generally speaking, that job is more likely to be in sports than in business.  In sports, you know how you are doing at every swing of the bat or golf club, after every play not at the end of the year or every six months.  The annual or semi-annual appraisal is too little, too late.  You don’t make a bad process of any kind better by doing it more often.
  5. Differentiation builds great teams  It does not.  It separates employees.  By its very nature, it is a zero-sum game.  Since it is a ranking, there can be only one person at each position on the distribution.  Although I admit that rewarding employees for teamwork will offset some of the negatives associated with the competition engendered by ranking, the most powerful consequences – promotion, assignments and pay – are associated with the ranking.
  6. Differentiation starts with communication While I agree that communication is important to let people know what numbers and behaviors are important, what changes performance is not about communication but about behavioral consequences – what happens to someone as a result of what he or she does or doesn’t do (i.e., behavior).  These consequences communicate the reality of what is essential and what is not.

Although Welch now says that that the distribution, 20, 70, 10, was not set in stone, it was interpreted as such by many inside GE and in hundreds if not thousands of companies outside GE.

See also: OOPS! 13 Management Practices that Waste Time and Money (and what to do instead).

Punishment, Parenting and Safety

Guest post by Judy Agnew

punishment parenting and safety

Recently, I came across an article that caught my eye: Parents’ Harsh Words Might Make Teen Behavior Worse.  As the parent of a 13 year-old and someone who has written extensively on the ill effects of punishment in organizational safety, it only took the first few lines before it struck a chord on both counts:

Most parents yell at their kids at some point.  It often feels like the last option for getting children to pay attention and shape up.” 

When I think of the times I yell as a parent it is born out of frustration—the sense that I have tried everything else and nothing has worked.  There are parallels to the use of negative consequences in safety.  They are often used when management has “tried everything else” and nothing has worked.  They have trained, reminded, prompted, put up signs, etc. and still people engage in at-risk behavior.  The problem, in these instances, both parenting and managing safety, is that we are largely trying to change behavior with antecedents.  Unfortunately antecedents don’t result in lasting behavior change.  Enter the frustration.

Regardless of what prompts it, the critical question is: do negative consequences work?  The research summarized in the article above says no.  In fact, it suggests that negative consequences actually make matters worse.  Those parents who used more “harsh words” when their kids were 13 were more likely to see an increase in poor behavior a year later.  The exact opposite of what most people would expect.  In addition, those teens showed more signs of depression and increased tension in their relationships with their parents.  The article goes on to quote Alan Kazdin, a parenting expert, who confirms that punishment is ineffective at improving behavior.

This is yet another study, in a long line of studies, which warns us of the detrimental effects of punishment.  Increased undesired behavior, more tension, poorer relationships—sounds like a bad recipe for parenting and, similarly, organizational safety.

This article was a good reminder that I am on the cusp of some challenging years ahead with my teenager.  What I need most of all to help my child survive and thrive the next several years is to maintain a good relationship with him.  I need him to talk to me.  I need him to trust me.  I need him to come to me when he has messed up, when he is confused.  The more I yell, take away his phone, ground him (i.e., punish him), the less likely he is to trust, talk and engage with me.

What leaders need to help employees stay safe on the job is no different.  Leaders need employees who will talk to them, report hazards and near misses, share concerns, and trust them.  The more leaders use discipline, negative feedback, critical comments, threats, etc., the less likely employees will trust, talk and engage in safety.

This doesn’t mean there is no place for punishment in parenting or safety.  There is.  But given the side effects, it should be a “last resort” after other positive consequences (not just antecedents) have been used to get desired behaviors to happen more often.  By focusing on what you want, instead of what you don’t want, and positively reinforcing desired behavior, you will find yourself less tempted to use punishment and more importantly, you will be much more effective in your relationships—at home and at work.

Read more about the importance of relationships in Safety in these articles and blogs.

Study the Science of Behavior Analysis in-depth at The Aubrey Daniels Institute.

Yahoo: Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right

Yahoo’s Rank and Yank is Business Nonsense

Yahoo's Marissa Mayer: Public domain photoI can’t believe this. Yahoo is now ranking employees on the curve! If it was April I would think it was an April Fools’ joke. Who is advising Marissa Mayer? At a time when Yahoo needs everyone to give it their all, someone has convinced her that ranking employees on the curve is a way to motivate them. Is there no one on her executive staff who has any knowledge of human behavior?

Read my entire post at Talent Management Magazine.

Click here to watch a short video about ranking and other management practices that waste time and money (and what to do instead).

See also: Perfectly Motivated People: They do much more than they are paid to do at PM eZine.


Contingent Reinforcement, Where?

Who would have thought in our lifetime there would be contingent reinforcement in Russia?

Apparently you can perform squats on an interactive machine and earn free subway rides. Now that’s a real win/win for the rider!


Zero Tolerance Policies should be called “Don’t Blame Me” policies

Zero Tolerance PoliciesWhile I understand the appeal of zero tolerance policies in that they allow difficult decisions about behavior to be dispatched easily and quickly, the decision to expel a child from school or to send someone to prison can be blamed on the policy, not the teacher, cop or administrator.  I have an intense dislike for the default ZTP that is becoming too popular and increasingly leading to ridiculous decisions.  Take for example the recent incident where a high school girl was called by her classmate to come pick her up from a party because the friend realized that she was too intoxicated to drive herself home. What she got for doing an honorable thing is arrested for underage drinking due to the fact that the police said that they had no choice but to report her, guilt by association I suspect.  Two others were reported last week, one involving an employee intervening in an assault in the parking lot of Wal-Mart and another in an attempted robbery of a convenience store. The typical response in print, TV and radio is that zero tolerance has run amuck!

When I started ADI, we had only one policy (and still do) relative to mistakes, misconduct or the like – “Each decision will be handled on its own merit.”  I never wanted to hear a manager say, “That’s the policy.”  We are all human beings here.  In this company we understand the effects of behavioral consequences on people’s behavior.  I wanted managers who were knowledgeable enough about behavior to make a decision which they knew would help the person deal with similar situations effectively in the future.

Since we are all unique individuals, there is no policy that is appropriate for all situations. Policy is usually the safeguard for delivering a difficult message usually involving negative feedback or punishment.  The behaviors involved and the context in which they occur all need to be considered before deciding what to do in all these situations.  Quit looking for a “one size fits all” solution.  There isn’t one.  Since most companies seem to think that the only one way to get people to do right is to punish the offenders, it leads to these ridiculous decisions. Typically, most managers and supervisors come to see that these policies are wrong for the situation.  As the policeman said in the case above of the high school student, “We have no choice.”  I think on the contrary we do.

Policy should be used as a guide, not as an absolute.  Policies should not use the words, everybody, anybody or all, as in “anybody caught doing X, will be…”  Begin instead with, “The policy is that…  Now let me hear the details.”  This is not about giving people a second chance.  It is about how can I help the person or persons involved change their behavior in future situations.

You might also be interested in the video Do Policies, Memos, and Safety Signage Work?

A Better Way for HP to Boost Performance

Photograph by Jacob Kepler/Bloomberg

Photograph by Jacob Kepler/Bloomberg

Hewlett-Packard Chief Executive Meg Whitman has rekindled the debate over whether to telecommute with a memo urging employees to show up at the office more often. She wrote that “HP needs all hands on deck” to foster engagement and collaboration during its turnaround.

Whitman joins Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer in blaming telecommuting for all-too-common issues, such as silo mentality and mediocre effort, which hobble business performance.

This approach is misguided and flies in the face of the laws of human behavior. What’s more, it’s likely to be counterproductive.

Read my entire post at Bloomberg Business Week.

See also Yahoo: Wrong Problem Wrong Solution.