Sometimes, the consequence of one’s performance is not near as important as the ability of the manager to consistently APPLY it across the organization.
A few weeks back, I discussed the various types of consequences (positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, punishment, extinction), as well as some of the pros and cons of each.
Today, I want to talk a little bit about the consistent application of these consequences, and the damage that can result if we don’t follow through. To some, this may be a bit obvious. But I challenge you to look around you’re organization, and your life, and see how many times this principle breaks down.
Case in point- Over the weekend, I decided to confront my neighbor with a problem that has been festering for some time now. He, as well as 4 or 5 others in my neighborhood have been parking their unsightly work vehicles/ trailers either on the street, or in their driveway overhanging the sidewalk. I live in a rather old, very quiet neighborhood, with lots of 3rd and 4th generation families. I am not the only one with this problem, but I was one of the few who was actually willing to say something about it (call me a masochist). I tried everything, from talking quietly to the owners of these vehicles, to talking extensively with town officials, and even called the police and asked that they issue a warning. All of this to no avail.
Well, this weekend, we went at it again. The police came out and “negotiated” a solution which resulted in one of the individuals moving his vehicle (luckily, for us, it was the worst of the offenders). But the police officer advised us that despite the laws on the books, we needed to be a little bit more tolerant of these vehicles because of the “tenure” of the owners (translation: “they’ve been here a long time…so let’s not rock the boat”). Say what? We have laws on the books, fines for those who don’t abide by them, and a city “pride committee” who positively rewards clean up efforts. We have all the makings of a great performance management system that will drive all the right behaviors. So why doesn’t it work? Because we don’t enforce them!!! To the city mayor, I say- “Guess what Einstein, you’re going to keep paying your officers $50-100 per call to go out and negotiate solutions hundreds of times a year, when all you’ve got to do is enforce the rules on a select few”. No brainer? You would think so, wouldn’t you?
To some of you who have parented small children (or any children and young adults for that matter), you know the importance of follow-through all too well. I, myself see the results of my past follow- through (or lack thereof) every day. It’s the best testing ground for follow through you’ll ever get, largely because of the speed in which you can see the results of your actions and the effect of different types of consequences on behavior.
Same for the workplace. People react to consequences, positive or negative. As I noted a few weeks ago, the type of consequence will certainly determine the type of response you get. Consequences always drive some type of behavior. But failure to apply a consequence will ALWAYS produce inaction. If you want your instructions, project plan, business plan, or any other management direction to fall on deaf ears, you need only apply your performance consequences inconsistently, or not at all.
My challenge to all of you today is to look at one area of your business, try and define the specific consequences of employee actions and behavior, and then take a hard look at whether you’re applying them consistently. Document this for a week, and then look back and see where this worked , and where it breaks down. I believe you’ll see pretty clearly the importance of consistency in this arena.
Author: Bob Champagne is Managing Partner of onVector Consulting Group, a privately held international management consulting organization specializing in the design and deployment of Performance Management tools, systems, and solutions. Bob has over 25 years of Performance Management experience and has consulted with hundreds of companies across numerous industries and geographies. Bob can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org