Organizations that embrace Lean Six Sigma performance improvement methodologies must focus on change management strategies that effectively incentivize desired behaviors and outcomes. One way to encourage these changes is through the use of reinforcement techniques that positively and negatively reinforce employee behaviors. In this article, we will explore the different types of reinforcement techniques and how they can be used to initiate change in an organization.

Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is the process of encouraging and rewarding desired behaviors. It is a technique that is often used to motivate employees and encourage the adoption of new behaviors or processes. Positive reinforcement works by providing a reward or positive outcome after an employee performs a desired behavior. This reward can be anything from a verbal compliment to a bonus or promotion.

Positive reinforcement is an effective way to initiate change in an organization because it encourages employees to engage in desired behaviors. For example, if an organization wants to reduce waste, it could use positive reinforcement to encourage employees to recycle. One way to do this would be to create a competition among departments to see who can recycle the most, with the winning department receiving a reward such as a team lunch or recognition at a company meeting.

Negative Reinforcement

Negative reinforcement is the process of removing a negative stimulus to encourage desired behaviors. This technique is often used to reduce undesired behaviors or to encourage the adoption of new processes or systems. Negative reinforcement works by removing a negative outcome after an employee performs a desired behavior.

For example, an organization that wants to reduce absenteeism could use negative reinforcement by implementing a policy that allows employees to accrue additional paid time off (PTO) for not calling in sick. This policy would remove the negative outcome of not receiving additional PTO for calling in sick and encourage employees to come to work.

Punishment

Punishment is a technique that is often used to discourage undesired behaviors. Punishment works by providing a negative outcome after an employee performs an undesired behavior. Punishment can be anything from a verbal reprimand to a suspension or termination.

While punishment can be effective in reducing undesired behaviors, it can also have negative consequences. Employees who feel punished may become less motivated or less engaged in their work. Punishment can also create a negative work environment that is not conducive to change.

Extinction

Extinction is the process of removing a reward or positive outcome to discourage undesired behaviors. This technique is often used to reduce behaviors that were previously positively reinforced. Extinction works by removing the positive outcome that was previously provided after an undesired behavior.

For example, an organization that wants to reduce excessive overtime could use extinction by removing overtime pay for any hours worked beyond a set limit. This policy would remove the positive outcome of receiving overtime pay and discourage employees from working excessive hours.

How to Use Reinforcement Techniques in Lean Six Sigma

When using reinforcement techniques in Lean Six Sigma, it is important to consider the following:

  1. Define desired behaviors: Before implementing any reinforcement technique, it is important to define the desired behaviors or outcomes that are being incentivized. This will help to ensure that the reinforcement is directed towards the right behaviors or outcomes.
  2. Identify appropriate reinforcement: Different reinforcement techniques may be appropriate for different desired behaviors or outcomes. It is important to identify the appropriate reinforcement technique that will be most effective in incentivizing the desired behavior.
  3. Communicate expectations: It is important to communicate expectations to employees and to ensure that they understand the desired behaviors or outcomes that are being incentivized. This will help to ensure that the reinforcement is directed towards the right behaviors or outcomes.
  4. Provide feedback: It is important to provide feedback to employees on their performance and progress towards the desired behaviors or outcomes. This feedback will help to reinforce the desired behaviors and encourage continued progress.
  5. Evaluate and adjust: It is important to evaluate the effectiveness of the reinforcement technique and to make adjustments as necessary. This will help to ensure that the reinforcement is having the desired effect and is leading to the desired outcomes.

Examples of Reinforcement Techniques in Lean Six Sigma

The following are examples of reinforcement techniques that can be used in a Lean Six Sigma environment:

  1. Recognition and praise: One of the most common forms of positive reinforcement is recognition and praise. This can take the form of public recognition at company meetings, awards or certificates, or even a simple verbal compliment.
  2. Bonuses or incentives: Bonuses or incentives can be an effective way to positively reinforce desired behaviors. For example, an organization could offer a bonus to employees who complete a project on time or within budget.
  3. Promotions: Promotions can also be a form of positive reinforcement. An employee who consistently demonstrates the desired behaviors or outcomes may be eligible for a promotion to a higher position.
  4. Gamification: Gamification involves using game-like elements to incentivize desired behaviors. This could involve creating a competition among employees to see who can achieve the desired behavior or outcome, with the winner receiving a reward.
  5. Loss aversion: Loss aversion involves using negative reinforcement to encourage desired behaviors. For example, an organization could require employees to complete a certain task by a deadline. If the task is not completed on time, the employee could be penalized by losing a bonus or having to work on the weekend.

Conclusion

Reinforcement techniques can be a powerful tool for initiating change in an organization. By positively or negatively reinforcing desired behaviors or outcomes, organizations can incentivize employees to adopt new behaviors or processes. When using reinforcement techniques in a Lean Six Sigma environment, it is important to define the desired behaviors, identify the appropriate reinforcement technique, communicate expectations, provide feedback, and evaluate and adjust the technique as necessary. With the right reinforcement techniques in place, organizations can successfully drive change and achieve their performance improvement goals.