I remember my secretary telling me some years ago about a practice in her previous company.

Every Monday morning, the employees would have a meeting to discuss performance and those who achieved their targets were placed on the “Wall of Fame”.

The employees dreaded these meetings and nicknamed them the “Wall of Shame”, as the ones who did not achieve the targets were made to feel bad for not doing so and got a telling off in front of the whole team.

Even though a number of people achieved their targets, the company suffered a high staff turnover — employees took short cuts and customers suffered.

The biggest challenge of the company was that management could not get employees to stretch themselves to do more.

Many managers I know often lament that they face the same problem with their team members — getting them to go beyond what is required to keep their job.

The secret to this actually lies in the science of behaviour.

By understanding this, managers can take away the guesswork out of managing people and achieve consistent and sustainable results instead.

Take stock

To shape the behaviours you want at work, first, you need to be able to step back and see what is going on within your environment.

Know that what you see happening — positive or negative behaviour — is being reinforced at some level within your organisation.

This is the bitter pill that most managers find hard to swallow.

They cannot accept that they are in some way responsible for these behaviours.

For example, a sales manager who says, “I don’t care how you do it, just get me the sales”, may be encouraging unethical behaviour in his team members, especially if he rewards an employee who is achieving results but is not playing by the rules. 

Pin-point critical behaviours

Many managers create job descriptions and task lists that are exhaustive and impossible to follow.

Out of the 100 things one has to do, there are a handful of critical behaviours that have high impact.

A good manager will mark out these critical behaviours and ensure that his team understands fully what they are.

He will also track these behaviours to ensure that they are taking place.

Managers as coaches

The great American football coach Vince Lombardi said that practice does not make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect. 

Merely identifying the behaviour you want may not cut it.

A manager who wants his team to do more needs to correct and support the members along the way to ensure that they know how to perform specific critical behaviours each time, every time.

Catch people doing things right

As a manager, you have a greater chance of encouraging positive behaviour to recur if you are able to catch it when it occurs or soon after.

This same principle applies to negative behaviour you want to discourage. 

Many managers believe that they are there only to correct mistakes and spot the things that are going wrong.

But working with someone who constantly focuses on what is not working is tiresome and draining.

Support behaviours you want

There is nothing more frustrating to an employee than to have conflicting messages from management.

When managers do not support the behaviours they say they want, it creates confusion. 

For example, many safety incidents occur because there is a disconnect between what is said and what is done on the ground.

Sometimes the need to cut costs supersedes the safety aspects, and this is when accidents occur.

When a team is doing just the minimum to get by, it is likely that this team is driven to action by fear, such as a looming threat of a job loss or a reprimand or both.

This is similar to when you are avoiding danger — you do just enough to get yourself out of harm’s way. This is known as negative reinforcement.

In contrast, when people operate from a “want to do“ space, they are driven by things that add to their experience — also known as positive reinforcement.

It is our natural response to want to do more of something if what we do is well received and makes us feel good.  

Positive reinforcement is not just about saying nice things or giving someone a pat on the back.

A good manager will identify tasks or achievements that are natural reinforcements and teach his people to look for these in their day-to-day work. 

Sometimes, managers make the gap between where their teams are and where they want them to go, too big. Breaking down the goals into smaller, bite-size pieces and acknowledging the progress is a simple way to shape behaviours.

This same science applies to our personal lives, in how we work with our children and even how we train our pets.

It requires some thought at the beginning to set up a system properly to focus on the desired behaviours and outcomes.

Shaping behaviours is an important process that managers have to learn in managing people and make work rewarding all round.