What are the best ways to motivate employees and increase productivity? This is a crucial question for just about anyone in a workplace leadership role.
And, while leadership experts may agree with Aubrey Daniels that “positive reinforcement is the most powerful leadership tool” (Daniels, 1982), managers often find themselves overwhelmed by the multitude of factors involved in just how, when, and where to administer it.
The two underlying purposes of workplace positive reinforcement are:
- To acknowledge a desired behavior; and
- To encourage a desired behavior.
Of course, such acts of intentional acknowledgement and encouragement require effective leadership that is both motivating and inspiring. Researchers have described a particular management style termed transformational leadership that promotes motivation by inspiring employees to do their best (Cleavenger & Munyon, 2013).
Pulitzer Prize winner James MacGregor Burns describes the underlying agenda of transformational leadership as:
“… the protection and nourishing of happiness, for extending the opportunity to pursue happiness to all people”(Burns, 2003, p. 3).
Transformational leadership is highly pertinent to positive reinforcement because it is concerned with enhancing the perceived meaningfulness of work. This objective is achieved by reinforcing various types of positive behaviors, such as autonomy (which is supported by providing employees credit for contributions and celebrating team successes); and task significance (which is supported by acknowledging individual contributions).
In other words, effective
“managers help people see themselves as they are; Leaders help people to see themselves better than they are”(Rohn, 2014).
Whatever the type of feedback might be, it is generally of higher quality when delivered in a warm and safe environment (Cleavenger & Munyon, 2013).
It is these and other qualities of transformational leadership that promote effective employee-manager relationships; which, in turn, enhance an employee’s ability to make rewarding and meaningful career contributions.
Effective leaders possess a meaningful repertoire of reinforcement techniques, and they know how to use them.
Whether the type of reinforcement is monetary compensation, verbal feedback, advancement opportunities, or something else; it is important to recognize that the potency of a reward is contingent upon the particular employee and what he/she finds rewarding.