Saturday, December 21, 2013

Learning - Reinforcement, Punishment

In the last byte we introduced ourselves to the concept of operant Conditioning. In today's byte, we continue this discussion and delve deeper into understanding reinforcement and punishment.

In simple terms, reinforcement is used to enhance a desired behavior, while punishment and extinction are used to diminish undesired behavior. This theory of reinforcement is fundamental in organizations design of the reward systems. If these reward systems are well designed it would help the organization attract and retain the best employees!

If these reward systems are planned in a strategic way, they would help motivate behavior, action and accomplishments that would propel the organizations in the direction of its goals. These strategic rewards need not necessarily be cash but could be training, educational opportunities, stock options, recognition, travel etc. These sorts of rewards have a positive consequence on the employee's behavior.

If we revisit the last point and the one earlier, we realize that reinforcement and punishments are administered through the positive or negative consequences of the employee's behavior. Positive consequences are results as a result of certain behavior that the person would find more attractive or pleasurable. Negative consequences are results of behavior that a person finds unattractive or aversive. Examples of positive consequences include pay increase, bonus, promotion, transfer to desirable geographic location or even a praise by one's superior. The Negative consequences could include disciplinary action, undesirable transfer, demotion, harsh criticism by a superior.

One essential aspect that a manager would need to be aware of is the cultural differences and gender differences when providing reinforcement through positive or negative consequences.

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