North Central Business Journal News
(January 2001 issue)
by Sandra Kay Neal, Ph.D.
Research on motivation has found three highly successful motivation
techniques which apply to workers across industries. The first is
known as Goal Setting. The second involves Charting.
The third is called Positive Reinforcement. They work well
alone, but are most effective when used together.
Goal Setting research has demonstrated that workers given
a specific, difficult numeric goal, which is more than most workers can
achieve, will produce more than if they are given an easier goal which
everyone could achieve or if they are told to “do your best”. Telling
workers to “do your best” results in the lowest amount of productivity.
Manager-set goals are as effective as worker-set goals, although managers
who include their employees in the decision about the goal develop a more
satisfied work crew, which has other benefits beyond productivity.
A useful way to incorporate Goal Setting is for the manager
to involve the employees in developing a goal which exceeds the average
output of the unit. Employees tend to assume they are above average,
and a wise manager builds on this assumption, indicating that this group
of employees is capable of producing beyond the normal output of their
industry. The manager can then state the productivity of the previous
time frame (week/month/quarter) and ask the work group to arrive at a numeric
goal for the next time frame.
Charting can then be used to help workers notice visually
how they are doing. The goal can be placed at the top of the chart,
with each week’s productivity by the group indicated in relationship to
the goal. It is best to use a group’s productivity. This will
encourage the employees to work harder together to achieve the goal, and
will reduce the likelihood of the manager having to admonish slower workers
to keep up – the other employees will do that.
The improvement indicated on the Chart will by itself act as Positive
Reinforcement for the group, strengthening the tendency to produce
at a high level. In addition, managers can verbally acknowledge to
employees how pleased they are with the high quality of production.
Another way to utilize Positive Reinforcement is for the company
to provide lunch on Friday if the week’s goal was achieved, or to let workers
go an hour or so early on Friday afternoon with pay.
Charting can be equally effective without using Goal Setting.
A chicken-processing plant was having difficulty getting its workers to
comply with safety regulations. The manager started keeping a wall
chart of the percentage of safety behaviors displayed during a randomly-picked
half-hour period of a shift (the time was different each day). Within
one month, the workers had gone from less than 50% to more than 90% of
safety behaviors. Previously, the manager had spent an enormous amount
of time reminding workers to follow safety regulations. During the
charting time, the manager said nothing about safety behavior, yet the
safety behavior improved dramatically. It actually took less time
for the manager to keep track of the positive safety behaviors than it
had taken when he focused on the lack of safety behaviors, and he was much
An automotive parts factory used charting of productivity levels
between shifts. Both charts were prominently displayed, and workers
quickly began competing with the other shift. To ensure quality production,
the managers subtracted waste from the productivity number, so that only
quality products were counted.
All three of these techniques shift the focus of managers from
what employees are doing wrong to what they are doing right. Not
only does this improve productivity, but it also improves the climate of
the relationship among the work group and between the employees and their
supervisor. It promotes a win-win experience for everyone, reducing
stress and enhancing the company’s productivity.
Sandra Kay Neal holds a Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational
Psychology and has 19 years experience helping organizations solve human
resource issues. Her company, Synergistic Organizational Solutions,
specializes in aiding small businesses. Dr. Neal can be reached at email@example.com.