I love this picture as it is a classic image of cue, response and for the winner, reinforcement. We all apply elements of behavioral science to our everyday lives and often don't realize we are doing so. In business it is the same. Unfortunately our application of these principles is often poorly informed and sometimes we wind up promoting the wrong behaviors.
We All Do It
For example, a well-meaning policy on financially rewarding safety on crews has the unintended result of driving reporting of incidents underground and overall safety actually suffers. Why? Because no one wants to be the person responsible for the crew losing a safety bonus. Or we think we can use "cues" like safety posters to drive safe behavior when cues are actually the weakest component of driving desired behaviors.
Cue, Response, Reinforcement
When we look at driving behavior we look at three things; cues, response and reinforcement. Research has shown that by far the best predictor of whether a behavior will happen again is NOT the cue but the reinforcement. That is what happens immediately after the response that the person perceives as a reward.
A quick example that will date me - a lot - is the old fashioned telephone. When I was younger when that phone rang (cue) everyone would race to answer it (response) because most often is was someone we wanted to talk with (reinforcement). I can tell you with hardwood floors and socks the race for the phone was pandemonium. Today when our house phone rings not a soul moves. Why? Because while the cue remains the same the reinforcement has changed. Now typically it is a telemarketer on the other end of the line and no-one wants to talk with them.
Key On Reinforcement
As a leader, when you observe a response or behavior from a team member that is either good or bad, try to look for the reinforcement that happens right after it. Perhaps it is acknowledgment from fellow team members, perhaps it is the satisfaction that comes from getting a job done or not getting caught? Good or bad the reinforcement is the thing to key on with respect to either promoting or ending a behavior.
Using cues is only a part of the process of shaping behavior and it is the weakest. If you really want to drive performance on your team insert an appropriate reinforcement immediately after observing the behavior you want. This can be as simple as a thanks or an acknowledgment. Try it you will be pleasantly surprised. Performance Leadership - Think About It!