There is an episode of The Big Bang Theory where Sheldon trains Penny to do what he wants. He uses chocolate.
We are all constantly ‘training’ the people around us but we don’t usually use chocolates and it is rarely deliberate. Because we aren’t even aware we are doing it, we are often inadvertently rewarding behaviours that we don’t want and punishing the behaviours that we do want.
For example, imagine your new enthusiastic staff member stops taking the initiative and starts waiting to be told what to do, what could have caused the change? It might be because you criticised her whenever she didn’t follow the correct procedure and didn’t encourage her when she was proactive. Gradually, over time you shaped her behaviour.
So it seems like a good idea to become much more aware of the impact of our behaviour on others and start to more consciously reward people when they do what we want.
But people can feel manipulated by this approach. You don’t want to be like Sheldon.
So what is an approach that feels more ethical and less like manipulation?
To be collaborative. Rather than deciding what behaviour I want to shape in the other person, I ask them directly, ‘Who do you want to be at work? What behaviours do you want to demonstrate? How would we recognise those behaviours? How can I support you in those behaviours?’
It is also helpful to acknowledge that these interactions work both ways. So I talk to my direct reports about how I want to behave as a manager. And then I ask, ‘Would that work for you? Are you willing to encourage me when I do those behaviours? And let me know when I am drifting away from them?
This more collaborative, transparent approach builds trust and engagement. How could you apply it at work this week?
You might also want to take a look at this earlier post on the 10 factors to consider when rewarding staff.