Carrot and stick: Both necessary in effective personnel management
Formal reprimand, suspension, dismissal all appropriate at times
There are many situations in life where we want people to change their behavior. Our relationships with these people vary widely; employees, associates, clients, supervisors, children and spouses are all likely to do some things we wish they would do differently.
Sooner or later, situations will develop where we will try to influencetheir behavior. To do so, we can use one of three approaches: reasoning,reward or punishment. However, the response of the individual will be rootedin either his or her desire for reward or fear of punishment.
Let's look at an example of a receptionist (Mary) who has recently startedshowing up for work five to 10 minutes late. It is best to start with reasoning,usually in the form of an informal discussion. Explain why it is importantthat she be on time, and ask her to commit to do so in the future.
It would be wise to ask if there is any explanation for the tardiness,such as needing to get a child on the school bus before leaving home. Insome cases, a schedule modification might be in order.
When we approach an individual with reasoning, we are hoping they willunderstand our point of view, and change their behavior to meet our desires.Neither reward nor punishment appears to have been used. His or her response,however, will definitely be based on desire for the reward, fear of thepunishment or a combination of both.
Keep in mind that both reward and punishment can be internally generated,or can come from external signals.
In this case, Mary may derive satisfaction from being on time, or guiltif she is late, with no further input from you. Thus her reward/punishmentmay be self-generated. In addition, she may anticipate a compliment or smilefrom you and others at work when she is punctual, or criticism and angryexpressions if she is late. These are external rewards/punishments.
Part of effective personnel management involves knowing when to use eitherreward or punishment to effect change in employees. Most of us are morecomfortable with one or the other, but we really need to use them both.Let's return to Mary, the tardy receptionist.
Suppose that after your initial discussion with her, she arrives a fewminutes early for the next two weeks. It is important at that point to acknowledgethe change and express appreciation. Doing this demonstrates, first of all,that you are aware of the improvement, and, secondly, that you value herenough to mention it.
This in turn tends to reinforce Mary's commitment to be on time.
If, on the other hand, she was on time six of the next 10 days, but lateon four of them, she has not complied with your request for punctuality.The need for punishment in this case is just as valid as the need for affirmationin the previous paragraph. So how do you punish?
When talks fail
I have found it best to use a three-level approach when the initial informaldiscussion fails. The first level is to issue a formal reprimand. Documentthe facts of the situation, and make clear the consequences of further tardiness,which will be the second and third level of punishment.
Summarize this in writing, and place it in the employee's record. Havingthem sign it eliminates any later dispute of the facts. While it may seemthat the first level is simply more words, it will be unpleasant for mostpeople, and is needed to make clear what will happen if the problem persists.
The second level of punishment is a suspension. Usually it will be foronly a day, without pay. Once again, all facts need to be recorded, alongwith the consequences of yet another infraction. The third level is dismissal.
Some behaviors warrant immediate dismissal, such as stealing or abusinga patient.
Put it in a policy
It is best to have a written policy that specifies those behaviors, andmake sure that all employees are aware of them. This is one of the reasonsthat employee manuals are important.
Switching back to the reward side of behavior modification, I believethis is the more effective tool in most cases. However, we need to be proactivewith it. Compliment your staff regularly as they do their jobs. Take themout to dinner occasionally, or give them some unexpected time off. An unexpectedextra in their paycheck at the end of a difficult week will probably getmore return than any formal bonus program.
While we typically think of rewards or punishment in connection withemployees (or children), they also come into play with other relationships.Clients who pay promptly and who are prepared when you come to the farmdeserve affirmation. The ones who do not need to suffer some consequence,whether it be a finance charge, refusal of future service, or a frank discussiontelling them their behavior will not be tolerated.
Rewards and punishments are even part of how we interact with supervisorsand spouses, but matters get a whole lot more complex at this point, soI won't go there.
To get the most out of employees, we need to be prepared to use the carrotand the stick. Most of us are better at one than the other, and we needto be aware of our tendency to overuse one while neglecting the reciprocal.In general, reward can be used when things are going well, and may preventthe need to use punishment. Yet employees need to know that consequenceswill result when their work is substandard.