Application reinforcement to shape employee behavior


Positive reinforcement is one of the most powerful techniques available for direction or motivation of the action of other people. Many company use positive reinforcement to increase productivity. A simple example, a manager often praises their employees whenever they go to work early. Thus, these employees regularly repeat this act.

Manager should do by some steps:

Set goal: write a smart goal and breaking the goal into smaller actions, and time periods may be appropriate in order to continue the progress and still accomplish the main goal.

Let people know how this positively impacts on them and other around them, praise them immediately whenever they well done. This encourages repeated behavior and motivates continuing effort towards reaching the final goal.

If possible, share your pride in front of others to further building their self-esteem.

Managers must remember, different people are motivated by different things. Some like money, some like praise, some like long holiday, and others like other rewards. So that, manager must understand each people to give them right reinforcement.

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The key to positive reinforcement is that it must be frequent and consistent. The more pride individual has in their safe working practices, the more they will maintain their specific behavior.

Negative reinforcement:

Although positive reinforcement is very useful in some ways, but we can combine with negative reinforcement to get highest effective. In industry, negative reinforcement can use to improve productivity. When employees can obtain, for example, time off from work as a reward, they will work extra hard. It is negative reinforcement because stimulus removed with time off leads to increase the level of works

For example, a major automobile manufacture wants their workers to achieve 60 transmissions per hour, but workers rarely meet this aim. The managers would like them to speed up but they cannot increase salary. The workers did not agree that. A solution gave out: we will use a negative reinforce. If before the end of the hour, workers could complete their quota of 60 transmissions, they could take a break until the end of the hour. Consequently, the line started to produce 60 transmissions within 40 minutes.

Absenteeism and tardiness

The second largest application is to apply in tardiness and absenteeism. The company can use small money insensitive or reward system to reduce absenteeism (Fred 2002, pg562). One company tried to holding lottery draws ever month and they noticed a significant consistency in attendance.

Safety and accident prevention

Because accidents occur at such a relatively low frequency, so that workers in most organization, especially manufacturing firms, often ignore the safe warn (Fred 2002, pg562). Workers stop wearing earplugs, hard hats, and keeping the safety guard in place on dangerous equipments. These firms can apply reinforcement to improve employee behavior. For example, Vinaphone Company in Viet Nam, which gives gift coupons to employees without accident. Furthermore, by offering incentives such as a buffet end each month for workers, a construction company can maintain an accident free record.

Sales performance

Sales managers and trainer have traditionally relied on internal motivation techniques to get their salespeople to improve their performance (Fred 2002, pg562). Especially, we should use variable ratio reinforcement to enhance sales performance. For instance, people spend a largest amount of their money to by goods in Christmas, so sale people can sell much more goods than other time in the same year. Hence, managers should reward employees depend on occasions.

OB Mod

The typical OB Mod program follow a five - step problem-solving model: (1) identifying critical behaviors; (2) developing base data; (3) identifying behavioral consequences; (4) developing and implementing an intervention strategy; and (5) evaluating performance improvement (Stephen 2003, pg52).

In step 4, positive reinforcement is recommended as an effective intervention strategy for OB Mod (Fred 2002, pg564). The reason is that positive reinforcement leads to positive control of behavior whereas negative reinforcement result in negative control of behavior.

Some studies indicate that O.B. Mod may be more difficult to apply in service than in manufacturing organizations, it still works in both, and the challenge is to make it even more effective in service application.

Taking a example with Emery Air Freight: because of specific economic savings, this firm required worker use freight containers for shipments whenever possible. In fact, only 45% containers were used for shipment. In order to encourage employees to use container, management established a program of feedback and positive reinforcements…


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Stephen P. Robbins (2003, pg558) suggested that the resistance sources can be distinguished into individual and organization sources for analytical purpose.

Individual resistances:

Habit: we depend on the habits or programmed response to cope with the complexity. But when change occurs, this habit becomes resistance. For example, we often go to work at 7am. Now, manager wants us go to work 6.30am, so we resist this command.

Security: changing can affect to employees' feeling of safety, so that workers with a high demand for security would like to resist change.

Economic factors: changing may lead to lower one's income (Stephen 2003, pg558). As a result, changes in job tasks cause economic fears if people feel that they cannot perform the new task because lack of skill and experience.

Fear of unknown: employees don't have knowledge and experiences about new systems, new organizations, so that they are afraid that they not enough effort to do their job. Therefore they may develop a negative attitude.

Selective information processing: employees build up their world via their perception. They listen to what they want to hear, they skip information that is different the world they've created. Consequently, they don't pay attention the arguments their managers make in explaining (Stephen 2003, pg558).

Organizational Resistances:

Structural Inertia: a good organization has stability system. The people who are hired in to a firm are selected for fit. They are trained and developed to behave in certain ways. However, this stability prevents the organization to change (Stephen 2003, pg558).

Limited focus of change: An company is built up from a number of interdependent subsystems such as marketing department, human resource department, etc. You can't alter one without effecting on the others. So the large system prevents the change of subsystems.

Group inertia: Individual is a member of group, so that, his behavior depend on group's behavior. He can't change when union norms don't change, even he may be willing to accept changes his job.

Threat to expertise: Changes in organization patterns can threaten the specialized groups' expertise.

Threat to established power relationship: in organization, long-established power relationship can be threatened by any redistribution of decision-making authority.

Threat to established resource allocations: when organization changes the size of resources allocation, employees feel threatened if their benefit is from this current allocation.


To overcome the restraining forces, there are six tactics that managers can use. Each tactic can apply in different situation and has advantages and disadvantages. Let's review them briefly:


Commonly used in situations



Education + communication

Where there is incorrect information or deficient information and lack of analysis.

Once persuaded, employees will usually help with the implementation of the change

Managers have to spend a lot of time if have many workers participate

Participation + involvement

Where the initiators lack of all the information they need to carry out the change and where others are considering power to resist

No other method works as well to solve problem

Can be very expensive, time consuming, and still fail

Facilitation + support

Where having adjustment problem leads to people are resisting

No other method works as well to solve problem

Can be very expensive, time consuming, and still fail

Negotiation + agreement

Where someone or some group will clearly lose out in a change and where that group has considerable power to resist

Sometimes this is a quite easy way to treat major resistances.

Can be extremely expensive in many cases if others can negotiate for compliance.

Manipulation + co-optation

Where other techniques will not work or are extreme expensive

It can be a relative inexpensive and quick solution to resistance problems.

It leads to future issues when employees feel to be manipulated.

Explicit + implicit coercion

Where speed is essential and where the change initiators possess is considering power of change.

This solution is quickly and can overcome any sorts of resistance.

This solution can be risky when it leaves people crazy at the initiators.

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Let's me explain one of tactics: Education and communication

Education and communication are the most important tactics that always use in the model companies or model organizations when managers want to shape employees' behavior. Managers should explain to employees why the changing is necessary, what are benefits if they change, how to change by providing training courses.

Managers should give open line of communication by encourage group discussion where workers can give out their complaints. Moreover, managers and their employees' together analysis conflicts while managers act as the calm and rational mediator. To make employee feels appreciated, managers should empower to their workers, which means they have a little more control and the benefit of the doubt.

Managers should also remember that implementing change requires speaking to people's heart as well as to their mind. Emotion is a key component in persuading an influencing others. People are much more like change their behavior when they both understand the rational reasons for doing so and see a picture of change that influences their feeling.

Education is especially important when the change involves new technical knowledge or users are unfamiliar with new idea.

Overcoming the individual resistances:

The core of all resistances is individual, so that if we can overcome the individual restraining, we can overcome all resistances. Combination between above tactics and reinforcement theory is the best way to overcome individual restraining. I would like to recommend some steps:

Step 1: Education + communication and reinforcement

As mentioned above, education and communication is the first step to overcome restraining. The manager explains why workers should change their habits. By teaching worker, the manager helps workers to overcome their fear as well as to compensate the lacking of knowledge. Meanwhile doing this step, we can combine with reinforcement to get high effect. For example, the manager often praises trainees whenever they have good behavior. The manager also often examines trainees to sure that trainees continuously study.

Step 2: Participant and reinforcement

Some studies show that, the presence of managers can encourage employees to change their behavior and to improve their productivity. Hence, the manager should participate with their employees in some activities. By using some techniques such as incentive money, rewards, the managers can motivate their workers.

Step 3: Facilities and reinforcement

The manager always facilitates for employees to change their behavior. The facilities may be providing good environment to learn, taking worker into class, supplying money to workers, and so on.

Step 4: punishment

We also should punish those who doesn't want to change or those who can't achieve the goals. That is fair for all workers; even it has negative impact on employee's emotion.


Overcoming restraining is only apart of organizational development strategies. Let me explain some detail of this strategy.

Lewin's three-step Model

Lewin suggested that the organization should follow this strategy to successful change:

Forces analysis model

Source: Stephen P. Robbins 2003. Organization Behavior. 10th Edition, pg565

Unfreezing the status quo, movement to new state, and refreezing the new state to make it permanent (Stephen 2003, p564). Managers have to carry out unfreezing step because it helps stakeholders, employees, administrators, boards and government understand that change is required. The effect of the driving and restraining forces come into play at this step. The change will happen unless the driving forces are greater than the restraining forces. The key to unfreezing "…was to recognize that change, whether at the individual or group level, was a profound psychological dynamic process" (Schein 1996, p27).

Moving process help organization getting desired state from status quo. In this step, people actually make change. This process includes supporting driving forces process and overcoming restraining forces process.

Refreezing: When organization achieves new position, the organization also has to remain the same activities. Because the change happened once doesn't mean it will continue happen or it will maintain itself. When the changes are taking shape and people have embraced new way of working, the organization is ready to refreeze.

Kotter's eight steps plan for implementing change

By listing common mistake that manager when trying to manage organizational change, Kotter established eight steps to overcome these problems:

By creating a compelling reason to establish an urgency sense for why we need to change.

Establish a coalition with enough strength to lead change.

Create new objectives to direct the change and strategies for obtaining the objectives.

Communicate the objective throughout the company.

Empower employees to act on the objective by overcoming barriers to change and promoting risk bearing and creative issue solving.

Planning for reward and create short term "win", which moves the company towards the new objective.

Consolidate improvements, assesses changes and do necessary changes in the new programs.

Reinforce the changes by proving the relationship between successful organization and new behaviors.

Source: Based on J.P.Kotter, leading change (Boston: Harvard Business School Press,1996)


From the research, we can conclude that:

Environmental economy is affected by so many factors such as technology, competition, nature of the workforce, economic shocks, world politics, and social trends. Consequently, it always changes and organization has to adapt with process in order to survive.

Understand reinforcement theory and how to apply it to shape and reshape employee's behavior.

There are certain resistances to every change inside the company because of both positive and negative reasons.

There are six tactics to overcome restraining forces that managers can use when they carry out organization development strategy.

For implementing change, manager must understand organization development strategy and how to apply Kotter's eight step.