Leadership Barometer 59 Reinforcement Done Well

July 21, 2020

The most effective way to get people to perform in a certain way is to reward performance that is in the direction you wish to go.

Two other important concepts are to establish an environment of trust up front, and gently shape impending wrong behavior toward some activity that can be positively reinforced. These concepts are documented Ken Blanchard’s book, Whale Done, published in 2002.

When people are properly reinforced, they develop habits of doing the right things because it makes them feel good. The reinforcement becomes intrinsic. People are doing their best at all times, not just when the boss has a chance to witness it.

Of all the tools at a leader’s command, positive reinforcement is by far the most powerful. Yet reinforcement can be a minefield of potential problems, and many leaders, after getting burnt, become reluctant to use it.

By avoiding reinforcement, they ignore the most powerful correcting force available to them.

A good analogy is when a military pilot flies a fighter jet. The way to get a fighter jet to do what you want is to carefully control the stick at all times.

Reinforcement at work is like the stick of a fighter jet. If we are not skillful at using it, the results can be destabilizing or even disastrous, but that’s no reason to let go of the stick.

We simply need to train everyone to use reinforcement often, learn from any mistakes along the way, and use reinforcement to enhance intrinsic motivation.

It is sad that many attempts at positive reinforcement actually lower motivation. You have probably experienced this yourself, either on the sending or receiving end, and it can be very frustrating.

There are four reasons why positive reinforcement can have a negative impact.

1. Overdone Tangible Reinforcement

The over use of trinkets, buttons, T-shirts, or stickers to reinforce every positive action gets old quickly. When using tangible rewards, keep the volume and variety to a reasonable level to maintain their impact.

Check to see if people are rolling their eyes when given a trinket.

2. Insincere Reinforcing

Insincerity is transparent. When a manager says nice things about you that do not come from the heart, you know it instantly. It reduces his or her credibility.

When reinforcing others, don’t say something because it sounds good, say it because it feels true.

3. Not Perceived as Reinforcing

What people find reinforcing is a matter of individual taste. When leaders reinforce using their own frame of reference rather than that of the recipient, it often ends in frustration.

Find out what would really reinforce the other person by asking. Don’t give a doughnut to a person on a strict diet.

That sounds obvious, but that kind of mistake happens all the time.

4. Reinforcement Perceived as Unfair – Of all the reasons for not reinforcing well, the issue of fairness spreads out like a nuclear cloud after a bomb blast.

Leaders get burnt on this issue once, and it colors reinforcing patterns from then on.

If they reinforce Sally publicly, it makes her feel good, but tends to turn off Joe and Mark, who believe they did more than she did.

Fairness is why the “employee of the month” concept often backfires. It sets up a kind of implied competition where one person is singled out for attention. That person is perceived to “win” at the expense of others who think they “lose.”

How do you fight the issue of perceived unfair reinforcement?

Create a win-win atmosphere rather than win-lose. Focus more on group performance, where the whole group is reinforced with special mention to some key players.

Have the employees themselves nominate people singled out for attention. Group nomination feels better than having the boss “play God,” trying to figure out who made the biggest contribution. It is a tricky area.

You can never overdo sincere reinforcement in an organization. The best reinforcement approach is to make it ubiquitous and continuous.

The word ubiquitous comes from the Latin root, ubiqe, which means everywhere. It was originally a theological expression used to describe the omnipresence of Christ. In this context, it means that reinforcement should exist everywhere in an organization and be encountered constantly.

Developing a Reinforcing Culture

Thus far, we have discussed personal reinforcements for a job well done. This is important, but it pales compared with the power of developing a reinforcing culture at all levels.

That culture is a social norm that encourages everyone to honestly appreciate each other and say so as often as possible.

Many groups struggle in a kind of hell where people hate and try to undermine one another at every turn. They snipe at each other and “blow people in,” just to see them suffer or to get even for some perceived sin done to them.

What an awful environment to live and work in, yet it is far too common.

Contrast this with a group where individuals build each other up and delight in each other’s successes. These groups have much more fun. They enjoy interfacing with their comrades at work.

They are also about twice as productive! You see them together outside work for social events, and there are close family-type relationships in evidence.

As a leader, you want to develop this second kind of atmosphere, but how? A good place to start is with yourself. Make sure you are practicing positive reinforcement in a way that others see and recognize.

Create an atmosphere where everyone understands and places high value on effective reinforcement. Become a model of reinforcement, and praise those in your organization who excel at it.

One helpful technique is to have the leader encourage reinforcing notes within the organization and ask to receive a copy of each note. By reviewing the notes and publicly giving praise to both the sender and receivers, the method will quickly spread and perpetuate itself.

The speed and ease of e-mail facilitates these notes of praise.

At the same time, leaders need to encourage verbal reinforcement that is not documented. Any time someone sees another person doing something right, she should be encouraged to offer praise.

Especially important are the “thank yous” any time a person goes out of his or her way to help someone. The key is to create the culture at all levels. It isn’t enough for just the boss or a few supervisors to reinforce people. Teach everyone to do it. That multiplies the impact by however many people you have.

As the culture develops, you’ll see it spreading to other parts of the organization. People will begin to notice your area is much more positive and productive than before. It will sparkle, and upper management will start asking how you did it.

A reinforcing culture transforms an organization from a “what’s wrong” mindset to one of “what’s right.” The positive energy benefits everyone as the quality of work life is significantly enhanced.

In addition, the quality and quantity of work increases dramatically because you have harnessed energy previously lost in bickering and put it into positive work toward the vision. What an uplifting way to increase productivity!

Instead of beating on people and constantly dwelling on the negative, you’ll be generating good feelings and loyalty while you drive productivity to new heights. That is worth doing and easy to accomplish!

Don’t get discouraged if you make a mistake in reinforcing. Sometimes you will. It is an area of significant peril, but its power is immense.

Continually monitor your success level with reinforcement. Talk about it openly, and work to improve the culture. Consider every mistake a learning event for everyone, especially yourself. Often these are comical in nature – like throwing another pizza party when everyone is sick of pizza.

Let your reinforcement be joyous and spontaneous. Let people help you make it special. Reinforcement is the most powerful elixir available to a leader. Don’t shy away from it because it’s difficult or you’ve made mistakes in the past.


The preceding information was adapted from the book The TRUST Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, by Robert Whipple. It is available on http://www.leadergrow.com.

Bob is also the author of Leading with Trust is like Sailing Downwind, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change. Bob consults and speaks on these and other leadership topics. He is CEO of Leadergrow Inc. a company dedicated to growing leaders.




Talent Development 2 Leaders: Stop Trying to Motivate Your Employees

July 1, 2020

As a training and development professional, how many times a week do you hear leaders say, “We’ve got to motivate our people?” Believe it or not, that phrase often leads to lower rather than higher motivation.

Seeking to motivate people is the most common thought pattern leaders use every day, so what’s wrong with it?

Trying to motivate people shows a lack of understanding about what motivation is and how it is achieved.

Leaders who think this way put the cart before the horse and do not make the necessary mind shift to do the things that actually do improve motivation.

So, what is the cart and what is the horse? The cart is the culture of the organization that either enables or extinguishes motivation. The horse is how satisfied people feel at any particular moment.

. Why do leaders reverse the conventional order; try to motivate people by making them feel good?

1. Poor understanding of motivation

The notion that by adding perks or benefits we somehow make people more motivated is flawed. Over 50 years ago, Frederick Herzberg taught us that increasing the so-called “hygiene factors” is a good way to sweeten things (reduce dissatisfaction), but a poor way to increase motivation.

Why? – because goodies like parties, bonuses, hat days, games, , etc. often help people become happier at work, but they do little to impact the reasons they are motivated to do their best work.

2. Taking the easy way out

Many leaders believe that by heaping nice things on top of people it will feel like a better culture. The only way to improve the culture is to build trust.

By focusing on a better culture, managers enable people to motivate themselves.


3. Using the wrong approach –

It is difficult to motivate another person. You can scare a person into compliance, but that’s not motivation, it is fear.

You can bribe a person into feeling happy, but that’s not motivation it is temporary euphoria that is quickly replaced by a “what have you done for me lately” mentality.

4. Focusing on perks –

Individuals will gladly accept any kind of perk the boss is willing to hand out, but the reason they go the extra mile is a personal choice based on the level of motivational factors, not the size of the reward.

Putting the horse in front of the cart means working on the culture to build trust first.

Improving the motivating factors, such as authority, reinforcement, growth, and responsibility creates the right environment. Motivation within people will happen, and it will endure.

Why do I make this distinction? I believe motivation comes from within each of us. As a manager or leader, I do not believe you or anyone else can motivate other people.

What you can do is create a process or culture whereby employees will decide to become motivated to perform at peak levels. An example is when you set a vision and goals then allow people to use their initiative to get the job done as they see fit.

How can we tell when a leader has the wrong understanding about motivation? A clear signal is when the word “motivate” is used as a verb – for example, “Let’s see if we can motivate the team by having a picnic.”

If leaders seek to change other people’s attitude about work with perks, they are going to be disappointed frequently. To motivate is not something you “do to other people,” rather it is something that is always within people that only they choose to let come out.

Using the word “motivation” as a noun usually shows a better understanding – “Let’s increase the motivation in our workforce by giving the team more autonomy.

An organization where all people are pursuing a common vision in a healthy environment of trust has a sustainable competitive advantage due to high employee motivation. The way to create this is to build a culture of TRUST and affection within the organization.

You accomplish this through consistency and by letting people know it is safe to voice their opinion without fear of reprisal. You work to inspire people with a vision of a better existence for them and by really hearing their input. Doing this helps employees become motivated because:

• They feel a part of a winning team and do not want to let the team down. Being a winner is fun.
• They feel both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards when they are doing their best work, and that is what drives their behaviors.
• They appreciate their co-workers and seek ways to help them physically and emotionally.
• They understand the goals of the organization and are personally committed to help as much as they can in the pursuit of the goals.
• They truly enjoy the social interactions with peers. They feel that going to work is a little like going bowling, except they are distributing computers instead of rolling a ball at wooden pins.
• They deeply respect their leaders and want them to be successful.
• They feel like they are part owners of the company and want it to succeed. By doing so, they bring success to themselves and their friends at work.
• They feel recognized for their many contributions and feel wonderful about that. If there is a picnic or a cash bonus, that is just the icing on the cake: not the full meal.

For an organization, “culture” means how people interact, what they believe, and how they create. If you could peel off the roof of an organization, you would see the manifestations of the culture in the physical world.

The actual culture is more esoteric because it resides in the hearts and minds of the society. It is the impetus for observable behaviors.

Achieving a state where all people are fully engaged is a large undertaking. It requires tremendous focus and leadership to achieve. It cannot be something you do on Tuesday afternoons or when you have special meetings.

Describe it as a new way of life rather than a program. You should see evidence of this in every nook and cranny of the organization.

Do not put the cart in front of the horse by attempting to motivate people with special events or gifts. Instead, increase the motivating factors and build a culture of trust. The end result is that many people will choose to be highly motivated, and the organization will prosper.




Bob Whipple is known internationally as “The Trust Ambassador.”  He is CEO of Leadergrow Inc. a leadership Development organization.


Talent Development 1 Are You Doing Enough Cross Training?

June 20, 2020

Don’t you love the advertisements that promise to cure all your problems just by taking a pill? They try to convince you that all ailments are related, and for only $19. 95 plus S&H you can have a full month supply of the cure.

“But wait! If you order within the next 20 minutes, we’ll double your order; just pay separate S&H.” It is amazing that there are people who actually believe this drivel.

For organizational ailments, I believe there is a potion that really does attack many issues at the same time, and you can actually get a double dose for a very low price with no S&H (and the offer does not expire in 20 minutes).

The tonic I am referring to is cross training. Let’s look at some of the reasons why this practice is such powerful medicine.

Link Between Training and Satisfaction

Several studies over the past 50 years have established a strong link between training and satisfaction. Organizations that continuously train their people have more motivated employees and less absenteeism.

If you study the organizations in the Top 100 companies to work for in the United States, you will see that every one of them has a strong cross training program in place for employees.

Improved Bench Strength

It is not rocket science to discover the benefits of having people cross trained on each other’s job. Every time an employee is out for an illness or vacation, it is a simple matter of moving people around to cover the lost function.

Having several back-ups for each position generates the flexibility to operate efficiently in today’s frenetic environment. In sports, we know that a team with great bench strength has an easier time winning than one with monolithic superstars.

Better Teamwork

When people train others on their function, a kind of personal bond is struck that is intangible but powerful. It is really a large team-building effort to install a cross training program in a company.

People actually enjoy it and rightfully feel the additional skills have something to do with job security.

Interestingly in organizations that do not cross train, many people are protective of their knowledge thinking that being the only one who knows procedures makes them indispensable.

Actually, the reverse is true because when large numbers of people feel that way, there is high tension, and the organization fails when someone is out. Jobs are not very secure in organizations like that.

Reduction in Turn Over

An organization that focuses on cross training suffers less from employee churn. Why? Because people have more variety of work and higher self-esteem.
They have more fun at work and tend to stay with the organization. Also, the opportunities to learn new things adds to the equation.

Basically, people operate at higher levels on Maslow’s pyramid in organizations that cross train.

Leads to Higher Trust

Trust is directly related to how people feel about their development. In organizations were people have a solid training program for the future, people know management cares about them as individuals.

The discussions to develop the plan are trust-building events because the topic is how the individual can improve his or her lot in life. That is refreshing and bodes well for the future.

Not Expensive

Of all the medications an organization can take for their problems, cross training is one of the least expensive. Reason: Training can be inserted during the little slack periods within an operating day or week.

Training keeps people occupied in growth activities when there is nothing much else to do. So, the real cost to the organization is much lower than it appears on the surface. When compared to the benefits, the ROI is fantastic.

Keeps the Saw Sharp

We all know the best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else. This is because in order to explain what you are doing you have to understand it very well.

A cross training policy forces incumbent workers to have their job processes well documented and easy to communicate.

Also, in the process of training someone else, there is the opportunity for the trainee to suggest better ways of approaching a task, so the process is being honed and refined all the time. That is healthy because it prevents stagnation.

If your organization does not have an active and specific cross training process, get one started today. It has so many upsides and really no significant downside.

If you have a program, ask yourself if it is fresh and vital. Are you milking this technique well or giving it lip service? If the latter is true, you have a lot to gain by revitalizing your cross training process.


The preceding information was adapted from the book Leading with Trust is like Sailing Downwind, by Robert Whipple. It is available on http://www.leadergrow.com.

Robert Whipple is also the author of The TRUST Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change. Bob consults and speaks on these and other leadership topics. He is CEO of Leadergrow Inc. a company dedicated to growing leaders.



Leadership Barometer 49 Maximize Discretionary Effort

May 8, 2020

Every day when people go to work in organizations, or work from home, they give effort to further the cause of the group. That is about as much as we can say for the general population.

The amount of effort as a percentage of what is available varies greatly from one person to another and from one organization to another. The effort for one particular person also varies significantly from one point in time to another.

Each of us has a vast storehouse of “discretionary” effort that we either give or withhold on a daily basis. Let’s examine the factors that govern why some people freely choose to give a lot more of their discretionary effort to their organization while others, equally qualified, habitually hold back most of their potential.

Of course, it has to do with motivation. On any given day, some of us are motivated to go above and beyond the requirements and others are turned off.

Can you imagine the power if there was a way to have most people in the organization fully engaged in the work and motivated most of the time? The result would be a huge productivity improvement for any organization.

The interesting thing to me is that the formula for giving maximum discretionary effort is different for each of us. No two people are completely alike, although there are many things that universally turn people off, the formula for turning an individual on is personal.

What follows is a method to discover your key to maximum discretionary effort.

First, visualize a time in your life when you performed at a peak level for an extended period of time of your own free will. Remember the circumstances by which you compelled yourself to put forth incredible effort, often with little rest or breaks.

Try to identify what it was in that set of circumstances that enabled you to perform at that level. Here are some examples of what people have thought of for this exercise:

• I had to do it because it needed to be done, and I was the only one that could do it.
• It was a huge challenge; I was told it was impossible.
• I felt empowered; finally I was cut loose to do it my way.
• It was just important for me to get this done.
• I was aspiring to prove something to myself.
• I had to show them what I was made of.
• It was do or die, so I did.
• My team believed in me, so I had to do it.
• I understood the goal and it was important to me.

Keep working at it until you have identified the true essence of what enabled you to perform at that level. Write it down in one single sentence.

The sentence you wrote will be your personal specification for giving your maximum discretionary effort. Many times in life you can configure work to align with this kind of statement. When you do, you will instinctively be performing with at least twice the productivity of your usual pace.

The beauty of this simple exercise comes when you do it as a group activity. I recall one meeting where I had a corporate Vice President with his whole team, and we did this exercise. It turns out the VP was most energized when he had to parachute into the jungle with a knife between his teeth.

His subordinates were turned on when they were trusted and empowered to get things done in their own way.

The ensuing discussion revealed why there had been so much tension in the organization. Subsequent coaching of the VP led to much higher performance among his direct reports.

You can do this experiment at any level in the organization. Not only will it help you understand yourself better, it will also give you new insight into how to lead your employees.



The preceding information was adapted from the book, The TRUST Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, by Robert Whipple. It is available on http://www.leadergrow.com


Leadership Barometer 35 Motivation

January 27, 2020

The concept of motivation is one of the most misunderstood terms in leadership education. Reason: Many leaders don’t fully understand the nature of motivation, so they try to achieve it using ineffective tools.

This article focuses on the learning from Herzberg’s Two Factor Theory and why those concepts can be used to create higher levels of motivation in any organization.

Typical low motivation

I believe the average organization obtains only a tiny fraction of the potential human effort that is available. My guess is that most organizations receive less than 30% of the discretionary effort that resides in its people.

Even if my number is off by quite a bit, it still means that we could double productivity and still have people working at less than their capacity. Wow, that represents some wonderful low hanging fruit. But how do we get that effort to come forth?

Motivate your people?

As a leader, how many times a week do you say, “We’ve got to motivate our people?” When you do, you reveal a misunderstanding that often leads to lower rather than higher motivation. Seeking to “motivate employees” is the most common thought pattern leaders use every day, so what’s wrong with it?

Trying to motivate workers shows a lack of understanding about what motivation is and how it is achieved. Leaders who think this way are putting the cart before the horse.

While the temptation to get going may seem irresistible, it is not a wise strategy. Leaders do not make the necessary mind shift to do the things that actually do improve motivation and catch the wind of trust. So, what is the cart and what is the horse? The horse is the culture of the organization that either enables or extinguishes motivation. The cart is what people ride in, or how satisfied people feel at any particular moment.

Why do many leaders try to reverse the conventional order and try to motivate people by simply trying to make them feel better? Some reasons may include:

Poor understanding of motivation

The notion that by adding perks to the workplace, we somehow make people more motivated is flawed. Over 50 years ago, Frederick Herzberg taught us that increasing the so-called “hygiene factors” is a good way to stay in the cart (reduce dissatisfaction in the workplace), but a poor way to increase motivation and actually get to our destination. Why?

Because goodies like picnics, pizza parties, hat days, bonuses, new furniture, etc. often help people become happier at work, but they do little to impact the reasons they are motivated to do their best work.

Taking the easy way out

Many leaders believe that by heaping nice things on top of people, it will feel like a better culture. Enlightened leaders realize the only way to improve the culture is to build transparency and trust. By focusing on a better environment, managers enable people to motivate themselves.

Using the wrong approach

It is difficult to motivate another person. You can scare a person into compliance, but that’s not motivation, it is fear. You can bribe a person into feeling happy, but that’s not motivation it is temporary euphoria that is quickly replaced by a “what have you done for me lately” mentality.

When leaders approach motivation as something they “do to” the workers, it has the wrong connotation.

The word “motivate” should not be used as a verb.

I cannot motivate you. The only person who can truly motivate you is you.

Instead, I can create an environment where you choose to become motivated.

The difference between those two concepts sounds like double talk, but it is a crucial leadership concept to grasp.

Focusing on perks

Individuals will gladly take any perk you are willing to give, but the reason they go the extra mile is a personal choice based on the level of motivational factors, such as trust and empowerment.

Trying to force morale

Some companies have a kind of pep talk on a daily basis followed by a company cheer before employees are allowed to work.

There are two ways of looking at this practice. In most groups, these pep rallies have only a short-term positive impact on morale. In fact, many groups eventually stop the practice altogether because of the incredible negative impact on morale.

The supervisor is uncomfortable because she knows people hate the “morning meeting” and the discipline of the company cheer before going to work has become a joke.

Most people feel the activity is a waste of time, because their morale comes from sources other than pep talks.

It does not matter what the boss says at the start of each shift. What matters are the signals sent a thousand times all day outside of the rallies. The ritual of a morning meeting only serves to underscore the hypocrisy, and therefore, has the reverse impact of what was intended.

In some groups, the pep rally concept actually does produce higher morale and is a sustainable positive force in the company. What factors might allow this to happen?

The meeting itself

There is some actual benefit if the meeting contains useful information or some kind of social support that people find helpful.

Often the meetings are a time to remind employees of new policies or drill on the location of recently moved articles.

By enhancing basic communication, these meetings help managers perform a basic function that would be hard to achieve in an e-mail or other form of announcement.

It also gives employees a chance to question the information for sanity or just to verify understanding.

In some situations, managers use the morning meetings for reinforcing good behavior. This technique can help, but it must be sincere or it will actually backfire. Insincere praise is deadly in an organization because it lowers trust.

So, if WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) has enough positive power, then a morning meeting might actually work.

The centering thoughts

Rather like an exercise in yoga, some meetings help people compartmentalize their lives so they can display the right persona for customers.

They can filter out the chaos or distractions going on elsewhere in their lives and focus on the tasks at hand. This would be the equivalent of a team “suiting up” before a public sporting event.

A pre-existing environment of trust

If the leader has achieved a culture of trust where people see congruence of words and actions, the leader will have more credibility.

This is the equivalent of a coach in sports. In this case, a rallying cry for team spirit may actually inspire some people to put forth more effort.

At least the company cheer has the potential to generate some fraternal feelings that are often helpful. Without the element of trust, these cheers have little chance to produce a positive impact.

Employee ownership

If the meeting is sponsored and designed by the employees for their own benefit, then it has a much better chance than if it is a management-driven event.

This shows the link between empowerment and morale. When the workers are respected for being mature enough to design and conduct a meeting, with perhaps some guest appearances from management, the dynamic can be a liberating influence.

The flip side of this is if certain cliques within the worker ranks own the process to the exclusion of others, the chosen ones will alienate the rest of the group and eclipse the benefits by feeding a silo mentality.

In an excellent environment, daily meetings can be helpful for the above reasons. Communication is enhanced, which helps transparency, and it gives managers the opportunity to model reinforcing candor.

In general, the early shift meetings should be avoided if there are trust issues among people in the organization.

Some people would argue that is precisely the reason to invoke the technique in an attempt to remedy a low trust situation. I think where low trust is a pre-existing condition, the dangers outweigh the benefits.

Since many organizations have extremely low trust, it is a good idea to proceed with great caution when considering trying to enforce morale through daily meetings. The old adage feels all too real for many employees, “The beatings will continue until morale improves.”

Most organizations obtain only a tiny fraction of the effort that is possible from the people they employ. A key measure is what percentage of discretionary does your culture elicit.

No organization can get a sustained 100% of the potential effort of people. That’s because it would require a continual flow of Adrenalin that would be fatal. But if my estimate is accurate, most organizations can double the effort of most people by using the Trust Model and still have them operating at a comfortable 50% level from their peak. The key enabler to this leap in productivity is the existence of real trust within the organization.

The preceding information was adapted from the book Leading with Trust is like Sailing Downwind, by Robert Whipple. It is available on http://www.leadergrow.com.

Robert Whipple is also the author of The TRUST Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals and, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online. Bob consults and speaks on these and other leadership topics


Leadership Barometer 16 Reinforce Well

September 17, 2019

There are hundreds of assessments for leaders. The content and quality of these assessments vary greatly. You can spend a lot of time and money taking surveys to tell you the quality of your leadership. There are a few leading indicators that can be used to give a pretty good picture of the overall quality of your leadership. If you know how to reinforce people well, you are going to score well on any leadership assessment.

Build a Reinforcing Culture

Leaders who are good at reinforcing others well end up gaining substantial leverage. Simply put, people tend to perform better if they feel appreciated. Since the days of Pavlov, we know that conditioning leads to improved actions, so this is no surprise. Unfortunately many leaders do not know or appreciate that reinforcement is a minefield. There are numerous ways to reinforce poorly. I have outlined these in my books and in other articles. Four categories of poor reinforcement are:

• Reinforcing with trivial trinkets to extreme
• Not being sincere with reinforcement
• Having timing and method not feel reinforcing to the receiver
• Applying reinforcement that is perceived biased and inequitable

For this article I want to focus on the culture rather than just the reinforcement habits of the leader. It is one thing to avoid the pitfalls above as a single person. That action will have leverage, but it will not change the whole organization nearly as much as if the leader encourages everyone in the organization to become good at reinforcing. What are some tips to allow this to happen?

Model good reinforcement yourself – always take the opportunity to make people feel good when they do good things. Do not rely on trivial gifts like t-shits and pencils. Use a variety of techniques and use simple verbal or written praise for most of this work.

Talk about the technology and the pitfalls – discuss successes and failures openly. If an attempt at reinforcement backfires, hold a meeting to debrief what went wrong, how it can be corrected, and how it can be prevented in the future.

Reinforce people when they reinforce others – I know that reads like double talk or circular logic. The idea is that the leader needs to enhance the good feelings that people in the organization get when they take the time to say or write “thank you” to other people in the group. I would always get back to someone who wrote a thank you note to a co-worker thanking her for the help or whatever. The essence of my note was to make the originator feel great about taking the time to recognize the good deeds of another person.

Reinforcement by a peer is one of the most powerful ways to encourage people to do more good deeds.  By reinforcing the reinforcer, you encourage that behavior at all levels in the organization simultaneously. It builds trust and creates higher motivation.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders. He speaks and conducts seminars on building trust in organizations. He can be reached at bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585-392-7763.


Leadership Barometer 8 Not Playing Games

July 23, 2019

Here is a quick way to assess the quality of a leader.

Build a real environment

Many people describe the actions and decisions of their leader as a kind of game.  There is an agenda going on in the head of the leader, but the true intent is often hidden from view.

This situation is common in all parts of our society from C-Level executives, to politicians, clergy, academics, lawyers, accountants, law enforcement, and really every corner of society.

Another symptom is that the story changes from day to day without any apparent provocation or believable explanation. People try to guess what the leader really wants, only to be embarrassed or disappointed when they make a wrong assumption.  It is a common break room discussion for people to speculate what the leader is trying to accomplish by the latest pronouncement.

The contrast with this pattern when there is an excellent leader at the helm could not be more clear.  Great leaders do not play games. They build a culture of trust, where people know the objectives, and all actions are in alignment with those objectives. Workers know what is going on in the mind of the leader and are expected to point out anything that would seem to deviate from the plan.

This condition leads to maximum engagement of everyone because there is no need for second guessing.

Do not assume people know

It is important for any leader to not assume people know the intent.  Since all actions are totally rational in the mind of the leaders, it is a simple leap to figure that other people can connect the dots as well.  You can tell when people are confused by their body language.

A puzzled look on the face is the easy way to spot the confusion. Great leaders are constantly trying to sniff out any possibility of misinterpretation, so they can take immediate corrective actions.

Poor leaders go ahead blindly, assuming that everyone will figure out why a certain action was taken. Sometimes they are astonished to discover significant confusion and wonder why motivation is so low.

That disconnect becomes the acid test of a good leader on this dimension. If there are rarely or never any need to go back and explain an action or statement, then this leader is communicating well and not playing head games with people. In that environment, trust will grow strong, and it will endure.

Put a high premium on direct information, and always verify that people understand not only what you are advocating but why you think that is the wise path. That verification allows people to challenge anything that seems to be out of the expected so that corrections can be made before damage is done.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders. He speaks and conducts seminars on building trust in organizations.

 


Leadership Barometer 3 Growth and Development

June 17, 2019

Here is another one of my quick and easy measures for the quality of leaders.

Growth & Development

Good leaders focus on the growth and development of people. If you want to test the caliber of a leader, just measure how much energy she spends on developing people. The concept is that there is vast reservoir of talent in all people that is ripe for development.

I estimate that all but the very best organizations typically get around 30% of the available energy and talent of their workforce. My estimate may be a bit off, but not too far.

Think of this. It would mean that we can double the productivity of the workforce and still have people working at roughly 60% of their capacity. Wow, what a great way to improve output and lower costs!

Of course you cannot achieve 100% of the energy of all people all of the time. That would require so much Adrenalin it would kill everyone. But we really don’t need the 100%. I contend there is so much pent up potential in most organizations, the upside is huge.

What holds us back? Well, it is a lot of factors I am describing in this series. One of the key ones is whether people have been given the skills to do their best work. Good leaders know this and put a lot of emphasis in the development of people.

Interesting Contrast

You can contrast a development oriented leader with weaker leaders who do not seek to do much development. Weak leaders may be afraid that if they develop outstanding raw talent, they are in danger of being passed over by the newly-developed worker.

They may be too ignorant to realize that 1 hour in a good training program brings more than 3 incremental hours of productivity to the organization.

It may be that the organization is in such a state of panic, there is simply no time to develop people for the future. They simply need all hands on deck. This myopic viewpoint is similar to the orchestra playing their final numbers on the Titanic.

Look for the Following Important Signs

Another aspect of development is the degree to which the leader seeks to grow herself as an individual.

  1. Does she have a personal development plan that has been reviewed with her superior?
  2. Does she have discussion groups around some leadership or inspirational books?
  3. Is she enrolled in several professional organizations outside of work?
  4. Does she spend time going to at least one professional conference per year?
  5. Does she listen to recorded programs while driving?
  6. Does she regularly interface with professionals outside her organization on social networks?
  7. Does she have an active reading list?

All of these behaviors are signs of a person who is really interested in growing as a leader. When you see these signs, you know the person understands the value of continuous learning.

Leaders who want to develop others need to consider if they are modeling the above behaviors themselves.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders. He speaks and conducts seminars on building trust in organizations. He can be reached at bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585-392-7763.


Leadership Barometer 2 Level of Trust

June 11, 2019

There are hundreds of assessments for leaders. The content and quality of these assessments vary greatly.

You can spend a lot of time and money taking surveys to tell you the quality of your leadership. There are a few leading indicators that can be used to give a pretty good picture of the overall quality of your leadership.

These are not good for diagnosing problems or specifying corrective action, but they can tell you where you stand quickly. Here is one of my favorite measures.

Level of Trust

Good leaders create a legacy of trust within their organization. I have written elsewhere on the numerous hallmarks of an organization with trust as opposed to one that has no trust. But is there a quick and dirty kind of litmus test for trust? Think about how you would know if an organization has high trust.

You can do extensive surveys on the climate or call in an expensive consultant to study every nook and cranny of the organization, but that is not necessary.

All you need to do is walk into a meeting that is going on and observe what you see for about 5 minutes. You can get a very accurate view of the level of trust in what Malcolm Gladwell calls a “thin slice” of a few minutes watching a group.

1. Overall Body Language

Look at how the people sit. Are they leaning back with arms crossed and rigid necks, or are they basically leaning either in or toward the other people next to them?

2. Facial Expressions

Observe the look on the faces of people in the meeting. Can you see pain and agony, like they do not want to be there but are forced to endure the agony till the boss adjourns?

3. Tone of Voice

Listen to how people address each other. Is there a biting sarcasm that seeks to gain personal advantage by making other people in the room look small or do the people show genuine respect and even affection for each other?

4. Respect for the Leader

See how individuals interact with the leader. Is it obvious that everyone is trying to help the leader or are they trying to trip her up or catch her in a mistake? Do the participants show a genuine respect for the leader?

5. Lack of Fear

Is there a willingness to speak up if there is something not sitting right – for anyone, or is there a cold atmosphere of fear where people know they will get clobbered if they contradict the leader?

6. High Initiative

If there is work to be done are there eager volunteers or does everyone sit quiet like non-bidders at an auction?

7. Attitude

Is the spirit of the meeting one of doom and gloom or is the group feeling like masters of their own fate, even when times are rough?

These are just seven signs you can observe in only a few minutes that will tell you the level of trust within the group. That trust level is an accurate reflection of the caliber of the leader.

I used to tell people that I could tell the climate of an organization within 30 seconds of watching a meeting. You can actually see it in the body language of the participants. Would you agree with this assessment?

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders. He speaks and conducts seminars on building trust in organizations. He can be reached at bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585-392-7763.


The Link Between Trust and Motivation

March 19, 2019

How many times a week do you hear leaders say, “We’ve got to motivate our people?” Those words and the actions they generate seldom lead to a sustained improvement in motivation. The above phrase is one of the most common phrases leaders or managers use every day. So what’s wrong with it?

Lack of Understanding

The phrase shows a lack of understanding about what motivation is and how it is achieved. Leaders make a mistake when they use perks to increase motivation by making people happier, like handing out free candy. They put a manipulative spin on the subject of motivation that backfires for several reasons:

1. Historical Research

The notion that improving things in the workplace will somehow make people more motivated is flawed. Over 50 years ago, Frederick Herzberg taught us that increasing the so-called “hygiene factors”  (read that more candy) is a good way to reduce dissatisfaction in the workplace, but a poor way to increase motivation.

Why? – because things like picnics, pizza parties, hat days, bonuses, new furniture, etc. often help people become happier, but they do little to impact the reason they are motivated to do their best work. That impetus comes from a different source.

2. Less is More

It is imagined that heaping nice things on top of people it will improve their attitude leading to higher motivation. The only lasting way to improve attitude is to build a better culture.

3. Bribery is not Motivation

It is difficult to motivate another person. You can scare a person into compliance, but that’s not motivation, it is fear. You can bribe a person into feeling happy, but that’s not motivation it is temporary euphoria that is quickly replaced by a “what have you done for me lately” mentality.

4. Motivation is a Personal Choice

Individuals will gladly accept any kind of freebie the boss is willing to grant, but the reason they go the extra mile is a personal choice based on the level of motivational factors, not the size of the goodie bag.

5. Focus on a Better Culture

Smart leaders focus on the culture first. They seek to build an environment of TRUST and improve the motivating factors, such as authority, reinforcement, growth, and responsibility. With these precursors, motivation within people will grow. It will be enhanced if some nice perks are added, but the perks alone do not create motivation.

Why do I make this distinction? I believe motivation comes from within each of us. As a manager or leader, I do not believe you or anyone else can motivate other people. What you can do is create a process or culture whereby employees will decide to become motivated to perform at peak levels.

6. Don’t use the Word Motivate as a Verb

How can you tell when a leader has the wrong attitude about motivation? A clear signal is when the word “motivate” is used as a verb – for example, “Let’s see if we can motivate the team by offering a bonus.” It is as if “motivate” is something a leader can “do to” the workers.

If you seek to change other people’s attitude about their relationship to work with goodies, you are going to be disappointed frequently. Using the word “motivation” as a noun usually shows a better understanding – “Let’s increase the motivation in our workforce by giving the team more responsibility to make its own decisions.”

What an Environment of TRUST Feels Like

The way to create the best environment for personal motivation to grow is to create a culture of TRUST and affection within the organization. Doing this helps people become motivated because:

• They feel a part of a winning team and do not want to let the team down. Being a winner is fun.

• They feel both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards when they are doing their best work.

• They appreciate their co-workers and seek ways to help them physically and emotionally.

• They understand the goals of the organization and are personally committed to help as much as they can in the pursuit of the goals because they know that when the organization does better, they do better personally.

• They truly enjoy the social interactions with people they work with. They feel that going to work is a little like going bowling, except the physical work is different. They are distributing computers instead of rolling a ball at wooden pins.

• They deeply respect their leaders and want them to be successful.

• They feel like they are part owners of the company and want it to succeed. By doing so, they bring success to themselves and their friends at work.

• They feel recognized for their many contributions and feel wonderful about that. If there is a picnic or a cash bonus, that is just the icing on the cake – not the cake itself.

An organization where all people are pursuing a common vision in an environment of trust has a sustainable competitive advantage due to high employee motivation. How do you achieve that kind of culture?

Tips to Achieve higher Trust

Building a culture of high trust requires that leaders stop trying to manipulate people and build a real environment. Excellent leaders create a solid framework of values, vision, mission, behaviors, and strategy.

The key to building trust is to allow people to point out seemingly incongruent behavior on the part of the leader without fear of reprisal. This requires leaders to suppress their ego needs to be right all the time and acknowledge their fallibility.

When people are reinforced for voicing their truth, even if it is uncomfortable for the boss, trust will grow. The quote I use to emphasize this is “The absence of fear is the incubator of trust.”

With this approach you have a powerful correcting force when people believe things aren’t right. If something is out of line, they will tell you, enabling modification before much damage is done. Now you have an environment where honest feelings are shared and there are no large trust issues. People in your organization will instinctively choose to become more motivated because they are working in the right kind of atmosphere.

Achieving a state where all people are fully engaged is a large undertaking. It requires tremendous focus and leadership to achieve. It cannot be something you do on Tuesday afternoons when you have special meetings, or by holding employee picnics. Consistently build higher trust by reinforcing people when they express themselves and you will experience higher and sustained motivation.

 

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 600 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.  For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763