Positive reinforcement, in the form of praise and recognition, is a powerful way to influence change. We all like to be acknowledged for our efforts. Receiving praise boosts our confidence. It makes us feel accepted by others. It confirms we’re moving in the right direction and removes the ambiguity that so often accompanies change.
As change agents, unfortunately it’s easy to forget when it’s our turn to dole out praise. Due to the human propensity to focus on the negative, we’re more likely to notice when people aren’t changing than when they are. If we only spend our energy filling gaps and correcting what’s not working, we miss the opportunity to reinforce the good things that are happening. So, here’s a reminder of the opportunities to offer praise during change.
Before It Starts
“You can do it!” Even before people start to adopt the change, give them encouragement. Help them believe in themselves and bolster their ability to change. Remind them of similar circumstances they’ve worked through. Point out the strengths that will help them navigate through the change. Help them see themselves as the hero of the story that’s about to unfold.
When They Try
“Good effort!” Change doesn’t happen immediately. Many people will not get it right the first time. It needs to be okay to take the risk and learn from it. Offer praise when someone tries and is unsuccessful. Recognize them for taking a small first step in the right direction. Praise their willingness to do something new, and applaud their resilience to try again.
After They Complete It
“Good job!” Acknowledge people who have adopted the new process, activity, or behavior. They’re using the system, or they applied what they learned, for example. They checked a box on the list of things they need to do to change. Recognize people who have adopted the new way of doing things.
Once They Achieve Results
“You did it!” The point of implementing a change initiative is to achieve a different end result than what’s been achieved in the past. Celebrate and recognize people who have accomplished new outcomes as a result of adopting the change. Show the connection between their efforts and results. Let them own the success.
To reinforce change, identify opportunities to offer praise at various stages. Develop a habit of giving the appropriate recognition to keep people moving in the right direction. Encourage managers to offer positive feedback and support. Create situations in which you set people up for success, and then give them the kudos.