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The Wrong Kind of Reinforcement
I used to work at a restaurant, and my boss was a textbook example of a bad boss. He would encourage us by hovering over our shoulders, waiting until we made a mistake. It was a fast-paced environment, and the pressure was high, especially when the boss was around. When we inevitably messed up, he would point out the mistake and move on to the next person. Eventually this must have become too boring for him, so he installed cameras in the restaurant – one that faced the customer at the cash register, and three that just watched the employees. Now, he could sit at home or in the back of the restaurant, watching for our mistakes and calling us when we made them. He would even enlist his ten year old daughter to watch us, and call him if something was amiss.
I know what you’re thinking now: these guys must have really sucked at their job, right? Wrong. I took pride in my work, and I made some damn good sandwiches. I was the shift manager, so I made sure that everyone on my shift made damn good sandwiches, too. And yet, we would still receive calls from the boss, telling us what we were doing wrong.
In my 2+ years of working there, I received positive reinforcement exactly once. Apparently, when the boss opened the store in the morning, he would check the three hardest areas to clean, and use that to judge how clean the rest of the night shift was. One of these was the mustard jar, which I cleaned to perfection every time I worked. The boss eventually figured out that I was doing a good job cleaning, so he told me that because I did a good job with that, he would find another thing to judge me on instead.
This was the closest I ever came to getting positive reinforcement. It was not an effective management strategy. The workers resented the boss, and their performance suffered whenever he was around. The easiest way to make a friend in that place was to complain about the boss, which we did incessantly. I suppose it did inspire teamwork when we took an Us vs. Him mentality, but that never translated into a better work ethic or a better product. When I manage anything now, even a small group project, I think “what would the boss do?” and then do the opposite. That’s worked out pretty well so far.
The moral of the story, stolen from Dale Carnegie: Be hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise. Do not criticize, condemn, or complain.