More discussion about Reinforcement Theory

Among all the theories of motivation, Reinforcement Theory is the one that I believe in the most, mainly because its idea is totally common sense to me: behaviors that lead to good consequences will be repeated and vice versa, behaviors that have negative outcomes will be discontinued. I kinds of grew up with this theory since it was applied by my parents regularly and I am pretty sure that the theory is also applied by most of the parents. As a result, it is very easy to understand the reason why this theory is very common sense to most of us.

Despite the common sense and simplicity of Reinforcement Theory, it is very interesting that the theory is not always be applied in organizations. It is not rare to see the following scenarios:
  • People go above and beyond the call of duty or exceed the expectations but their contributions are ignored or sometimes, their actions are even criticized.
  • People with bad behaviors receive no punishments.
  • Sometimes, people with bad behaviors may even be promoted so that they will be transferred to another location and become someone else’s problem.
  • People are rewarded for the wrong kind of behavior. For example, a company whose strategic plan focuses on quality only rewards its employees for meeting the deadline regardless of the amount of defects contained in the release.

Among these scenarios, I myself usually see the second one (people with bad behaviors receive no punishments) mainly because the managers are afraid of the reaction the person will give when confronted or because the company culture discourages punishments.

According to Reinforcement Theory, employee behavior can be modified using the following methods:
  • Positive Reinforcement: Possible behavior followed by positive consequences. It is important that the positive consequences should follow the positive behavior immediately so that the employee can see the link between them.
  • Negative Reinforcement: Positive behavior followed by removal of negative consequences. This method is used to increase the desired behavior.
  • Extinction: Negative behavior is followed by removal of positive consequences. This method decreases the frequency of negative behaviors and helps to avoid the situation when negative behaviors are demonstrated because they are being inadvertently rewarded.
  • Punishment: Negative behavior is followed by negative consequences. This method is used to decrease the frequency of undesirable behaviors.

In my opinion, the “Positive reinforcement” and “Punishment” methods are more effective because they show a clear relationship between the behaviors and the consequences as well as send a strong message to the employees. Some companies, such as the one that I am currently working for, discourage the usage of punishments. However, in my opinion, punishments should be as necessary as rewards to ensure appropriate behaviors in an organization. We just need to be more careful when defining and applying punishments.

There is a systematic application of Reinforcement Theory to modify employee behaviors in organization. This model is called the Organizational Behavior Modification which consists of five stages:

Organizational Behavior Modification

Let’s say that we want to eliminate the bad behavior of being late to meetings. Here is how we apply the five steps of the Organizational Behavior Modification model:
  • Step 1: Identify the behavior that need to modified, which is being late to meetings.
  • Step 2: Measure the baseline level: The percentage of meetings that a specific employee is late to.
  • Step 3: Analyze the reasons and outcomes: Why is this employee late for meeting? What are the consequences of this lateness?
  • Step 4: Intervene: Remove the positive outcomes (can not be accessed for the title employee of the month) or punish the employee (cut off bonus).
  • Step 5: Evaluate and maintain: The behavior of being late to meetings is measured periodically and maintained.

Reference
Bauer, T. and Erdogan, Berrin., 2009. Organizational Behavior. 1st ed. Flat World Knowledge, Inc.

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More discussion about Equity Theory

1. Introduction
Equity Theory says that an employee will compare his job’s inputs and outcomes with those of relevant others and then attempts to correct any inequity. It should be noted that equity perceptions is considered as a result of a subjective process and hence, for the same situation, some people may think that it is fair while others may think that it is unfair.

2. Reactions to inequity
Potential reactions that an employee may have toward inequity have already been discussed in the “Theories of motivation” post. The following table gives more detailed examples for those reactions:

Reactions Example
Distort perceptions Changing one’s thinking to believe that the referent actually is more skilled than previously thought
Increase referent’s inputs Encouraging the referent to work harder
Reduce own input Deliberately putting forth less effort at work. Reducing the quality of one’s work
Increase own outcomes Negotiating a raise for oneself or using unethical ways of increasing rewards such as stealing from the company
Change referent Comparing oneself to someone who is worse off
Leave the situation Quitting one’s job
Seek legal action Suing the company or filing a complaint if the unfairness in question is under legal protection

Those are the reactions that an employee may have when he thinks that the situation is unfair for him, which means that his job’s outcomes (salary, etc..) are lower than the referent. What if his job’s outcomes are higher than others who have the same title and do the same tasks? What if he is overpaid or over-rewarded? Originally, Equity Theory proposed that over-rewarded individuals would experience guilt and would increase their effort to restore perceptions of equity. However, research has shown that in reality, individuals experience less distress as a result of being over-rewarded. This can be explained by the fact that individuals can easily find perceptual ways to deal with overpayment inequity, such as believing they have more skills and contribute more to the organization compared to the referent person.

3. Three types of personality trait regarding to inequity
Research has shown that different people have different levels of sensitivity to inequity. Regarding to this, individuals can be categorized into 3 types of personality trait:
  • Equity Sensitivity: This type of people expect to maintain equitable relationships, and they experience distress when they feel they are over-rewarded or under-rewarded.
  • Benevolent: This type of people give without waiting to receive much in return.
  • Entitled: This type of people expect to receive a lot without giving much in return.
4. Three types of justice in organizations
Originally, Equity Theory defines fairness is limited only to fairness of outcomes. It should be noted that there are totally 3 types of fairness in organizations and Equity Theory should be applied to all of them:
  • Distributive justice: refers to the degree to which the outcomes received from the organization are perceived to be fair.
  • Procedural justice: refers to the degree to which fair decision-making procedures are used to arrive at a decision.
  • Interactional justice: refers to the degree to which people are treated with respect, kindness, and dignity in interpersonal interactions.
Three types of justice
Besides distributive justice, procedural justice is also very important because people do not only care about the rewards but they also expect decision-making processes (such as layoffs, employee selection, performance appraisals, and pay decisions) to be fair, especially when they do not get the outcomes they feel they deserve. Here are several suggestions to achieve procedural justice:
  • Give employees advance notice before laying them off, firing them, or disciplining them.
  • Allow employees voice in decision making for such processes as performance appraisal system.
  • Provide explanations to employees about reward systems or policies and rules.
  • Maintain consistency in treatment.
5. Tips for being fair
Here are several tips for being fair in an organization:
  • Pay attention to different contribution levels of employees when distributing rewards: People who are more qualified, skilled, or those who did more than others expect to receive more rewards.
  • Sometimes may have to disregard people’s contributions to distribute certain rewards: Some rewards can be equally distributed (such as health insurance) or based on individual needs (such as unpaid leave for health reasons).
  • Pay attention to how decisions are made: This is to ensure procedural justice.
  • Pay attention to how to talk to people: This is to ensure interactional justice.
  • Pay attention to the perceptions of others about fairness: Remember that justice is in the eye of the beholder.
  • Create a sense of justice in the entire organization: People do not only care about their own justice but also pay attention to how others are treated.

6. Reference
Bauer, T. and Erdogan, Berrin., 2009. Organizational Behavior. 1st ed. Flat World Knowledge, Inc.

Motivating people using Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

Acting as an expansion of the post about “Theories of motivation“, the purpose of this post is to discuss how an organization can motivate its employees using Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
Maslow's hierarchy of needs
Maslow’s theory says that human beings’ needs can be hierarchically ranked in 5 levels and  once the lower needs are satisfied, people will start looking to satisfy higher needs. Basing on this theory, organization can motivate its employees by proving them with satisfactions for their current needs.

In order to suggest how to satisfy each level of needs, it is important to understand each of the level:
  • Physiological: the need for food, water, shelter and other biological needs. These are very basic needs and when they are lacking, the search for them may overpower all other urges.
  • Safety: the need to be free from the threat of danger, pain, or an uncertain future.
  • Social: the need to bond with other human beings, be loved, and form lasting attachments with others.
  • Esteem: the need to be respected by one’s peers, feel important, and be appreciated.
  • Self-Actualization: the need to become all one is capable of becoming.
By understanding each level of needs, an organization can motivate its employees by providing them with satisfactions for their current needs:
  • Physiological needs can be satisfied by:
    • Providing financial benefits (salary, bonus…) that can satisfy physiological needs of the employee
  • Safety needs can be satisfied by:
    • Providing generous financial benefits that can help the employee to save for the future
    • Providing health insurance
    • Providing company-sponsored retirement plans
    • Offering a measure of job security
  • Social needs can be satisfied by:
    • Having a friendly working environment
    • Providing a workplace conducive to collaboration and communication with others
    • Providing company trip, company picnic or other social get-togethers
    • Scheduling and sponsoring team activities
  • Esteem needs can be satisfied by:
    • Providing high financial benefits
    • Providing promotion opportunities
    • Designing a reward system that recognize employee’s accomplishments
    • Conferring job titles that communicate to the employee that one has achieved high status within the organization
  • Self-actualization needs can be satisfied by:
    • Offering development and growth opportunities
    • Assigning work that is interesting and challenging to the employee

Organizations may ensure a highly motivated workforce by making the effort to satisfy the different needs of each employee. It is interesting that good financial benefits can satisfy not only physiological but also safety and esteem needs. It should also be noted that the same “treatment” may have different reactions, depending on the employee’s current needs. For example, an employee whose current needs are esteem needs may feel satisfied when his supervisor praises an accomplishment. However, another employee who is trying to satisfy social needs may not like being praised by his manager in front of peers if the praise sets the individual apart from the rest of the group.

Reference:
Bauer, T. and Erdogan, Berrin., 2009. Organizational Behavior. 1st ed. Flat World Knowledge, Inc.

Theories of motivation

Motivation is the psychological feature that causes us to act or behave in a particular way. In the context of organization, motivation can be defined as “the desire to achieve a goal or a certain performance level, leading to goal-directed behavior” (Bauer and Erdogan, 2009). As a result, motivation is very important for organization because it is one of the forces that lead to performance and productivity. The following equation show the relationship between job performance and motivation:
Performance and Motivation
The purpose of this post is to briefly introduce the theories of motivation. More practical and detailed discussion about motivation will be presented in later posts.

Generally speaking, the theories of motivation can be divided into 2 categories:
  • Need-based theories: These theories are conducted basing on studies and examination of individual needs. Most of need-based theories are introduced before process-based theories.
  • Process-based theories: These theories view motivation as a rational process rather than just an action aimed at satisfying a need. According to process-based theories, individuals analyze their environment, develop thoughts and feelings, and react in certain ways. As a result, process-based theories attempt to explain the thought processes of individuals who demonstrate motivated behavior.

1. Need-based theories of motivation

1.1. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs
This theory is based on a simple premise: people have needs that are hierarchically ranked. The following diagram shows the hierarchy of needs and details about them:
Maslow's Hierarchy Of Needs

There are 5 levels of needs, starting from Physiological level (the most fundamental needs) to Self-Actualization level (the most advanced needs). Maslow’s theory says that:
  • There are some needs that are basic to all human beings, and if they are absent, nothing else matters.
  • As we satisfy these basic needs, we start looking to satisfy higher order needs.
  • Once a lower level need is satisfied, it no longer serves as a motivator.
  • By understanding what people need, we can have clues on how to motivate them.

1.2. ERG theory
ERG theory is a modification of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in which basic human needs may be grouped under three categories: Existence, Relatedness, and Growth. Existence is equivalent to Maslow’s physiological and safety needs, Relatedness corresponds to social needs, and Growth refers to Maslow’s esteem and self-actualization.

ERG Theory

Here are some important points about this theory:
  • Unlike Maslow’s theory, ERG theory does not rank needs in any particular order and it explicitly recognizes that more than one need may operate at a given time.
  • ERG theory suggests that individuals who are frustrated in their attempts to satisfy one need may regress to another.
  • ERG theory implies that we need to recognize the multiple needs that may be driving individuals at a given point to understand their behavior and properly motivate them.

1.3. Two-Factor theory
This theory states that some factors eliminate job dissatisfaction (Hygiene Factors) and other factors increase job satisfaction (Motivators). Hygiene Factors include company policies, supervision, working conditions, salary, safety, and security on the job. When employees are happy with the Hygiene Factors, it does not mean that they are motivated. However, when the employees are not happy with the hygiene factors, they are demotivated.

Two Factor Theory

In contrast, Motivators are factors that are intrinsic to the job, such as achievement, recognition, interesting work, increased responsibilities, advancement, and growth opportunities. According to this theory, Motivators are the conditions that truly encourage employees to try harder.

1.4. Acquired-Needs theory (Three Needs theory)

This theory says that individuals acquire needs as a result of their life experiences and these needs can be categorized into 3 types:
  • Need for Power: The need to influence and lead others, and control one’s environment.
  • Need for Achievement: The need to accomplish goals, excel, and strive continually to do things better.
  • Need Affiliation: The need for friendly and close interpersonal relationships.

Acquired Needs Theory
According to this theory, all individuals possess a combination of these needs, and the dominant needs are thought to drive employee behavior. Among the need-based approaches to motivation, this theory is the one that has received the greatest amount of support.

2. Process-based theories of motivation

2.1. Equity theory
This theory says that an employee will compare his job’s inputs and outcomes with those of relevant others and then attempts to correct any inequity.

Equity Theory

Inputs are the contributions that the employee feels that he is making to the organization such as hard work, loyalty and skills. Outcomes are the perceived rewards that the employee can receive from the situation such as salary, promotion or even treatment from his manager. The referent that the employee uses to compare with can be a category of people or a specific person, such as a co-worker who has the same job title and performs the same type of tasks.

If the employee thinks that there is inequity or unfairness then he may have one or more of the following potential reactions:
  • Altering his perceptions of inputs and outcomes by:
    • Downplay his own inputs
    • Valuing his outcomes more highly
    • Value the referent’s inputs more highly
    • Downplay the referent’s outcomes
  • Having the referent increase inputs
  • Reducing his own inputs
  • Attempting to increase his outcomes
  • Changing the referent, comparing with someone else
  • Leaving the situation by quitting

2.2. Expectancy theory

This theory says that individual motivation is determined by a rational calculation in which individuals evaluate their situation by asking 3 questions:
  • Will my effort lead to high performance?
  • Will performance lead to outcomes?
  • Do I find the outcomes desirable?

Expectancy Theory

According to this theory, motivational strength is determined by the perceived probabilities of a given outcome and the attractiveness of that outcome to the individual. This equation show the relationship between those factors:
T = M x E x R
whereas:
– T = tendency to act
– M = strength of motive
– E = expectation that motive will be rewarded
– R = reward value

2.3. Reinforcement theory
According to reinforcement theory, behavior is a function of its outcomes. This theory based on a simple idea: people will repeat the behaviors if those behaviors lead to good consequences and vice versa, people will stop the behaviors if those behaviors lead to negative outcomes. Reinforcement theory describes four interventions to modify employee behavior:

Reinforcement Interventions

Positive Reinforcement and Negative Reinforcement are the two methods to increase the desired behavior whereas Extinction and Punishment are used to reduce the frequency of negative behaviors. By properly tying rewards to positive behaviors, eliminating rewards following negative behaviors, and punishing negative behaviors, organization can increase the frequency of desired behaviors.

References:

Bess, D., 2012. Motivation, BUS 626 Organizational Behavior. University of Hawaii at Manoa, unpublished

Bauer, T. and Erdogan, Berrin., 2009. Organizational Behavior. 1st ed. Flat World Knowledge, Inc.

Wikipedia, 2012. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. [online] Available at: <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs&gt; [Accessed 7 December 2012 ].

Communication

During my bachelor degree at University of Technology, Sydney, I had a course called “Engineering Communication”. That was a compulsory course for all engineering students and it was a 6 credits one. Basically the course taught us a lot of knowledge about communication as well as good practices to have effective communication not only at work but also in our daily life. It has been nearly 10 years since I studied that course and I still appreciate it. The course does not only improve my communication skills but it also helps me to acknowledge the significant importance of communication, both at work and in my daily life. As a result, I would like to write about this interesting topic, may be in several posts. I will begin with the general knowledge about communication in this post. Discussion about good practices and tips for effective communication will be provided in the next post.

1. Understanding communication

According to Webster’s dictionary, communication is a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior. The following diagram explains the communication process:
Communication process
A communication process must have at least two people: a sender and a receiver. The sender has some ideas in his mind and he translates the ideas into words by encoding the message. The medium of this encoded message can be spoken words, written words or signs. This message is transmitted to the receiver and the receiver decodes the message by assigning meaning to the words. However, the understanding of the receiver about the message may not be the same as what the sender means. This problem is caused by noise. Noise is anything that interferes with or distorts the message being transformed and it can be both external or internal. External noise is noise that is in the environment such as distractions whereas internal noise occurs within the sender or the receiver. For example, the sender may be too upset to encode an accurate message or the receiver may be too nervous to pay attention to the message.

Communication is important due to the following reasons:
  • In most organizations, communication is considered as one of the most important soft skills that employees should have and it is assessed in most performance appraisal evaluations.
  • Researches have shown that from 50% to 90% of a manager’s time is spent on communicating.
  • Poor communication also has significant impact on productivity. According to Bauer and Erdogan (2009), 14% of each workweek is wasted on poor communication.
  • Miscommunication is a causal factor in approximately 70% to 80% of all accidents (Bauer and Erdogan, 2009).

2. Types of communication

There are 3 types of communication:
  • Verbal: Verbal communications take place over in person or over the phone. The medium of the message is oral.
  • Written: The medium of the message in written communications is printed.
  • Nonverbal: In nonverbal communications, the messages are transmitted via eye contacts, tone of voice, facial expressions, postures, touches, body languages or even the distance between the sender and the receiver.

Research has shown that only 7% of a receiver’s comprehension of a message is based on the sender’s actual words, 38% is based on para-language (the tone, pace, and volume of speech), and 55% is based on nonverbal cues such as body language (Bauer and Erdogan, 2009). Another interesting fact is that our average speaking speed is just approximately 150 words per minute whereas the listening speed is about 400-500 words per minute. This simply means that the audience has more than enough time to hear and as a result, their minds may wander during the conversation.

In communication, the distance between the speakers is also important and this varies from culture to culture. The following chart shows the relationship between the distance and the intimacy level between people when communicating in Western culture:
Communication distance
People have intimate distance when they are really close to each other such as couples. Personal distance is for friends and family members whereas social distance is the distance that one keep with strangers. The distance between people while communicating can tell the intimacy level between them and vice versa, people adjust the distance according to the relationship between them. However, this can vary from culture to culture. For instance, people in such Asian cultures as Vietnamese or Chinese may stay closer when communicating and the chart above may not be applied to them.

3. Communication channels

Different communication channels have different levels of information richness. The following table illustrate that:
Information richness
The key to effective communication is to match the communication channel with the goal of the message. The following table suggests the usage of written communication versus verbal communication depending on the scenarios:
Written communication versus verbal communication

4. Barriers to effective communication

There are a lot of barriers to effective communication. In this post, I only discuss the four barriers that are important in my opinion:

Selective perception
Selective perception refers to the fact that we automatically filter what we see and hear to suit our own needs. This process happens unconsciously and it can act as a time-saver to help us process huge and complex information. However, it can also lead us to missing important or urgent information.

Information overload
Information Overload
In this information age, we are bombarded daily with so much information that we can take in. Those information can come from many sources: TV, newspapers, magazines, mail, emails, faxes and the world wide web. Research shows that information overload can significantly impacts our efficiency, creativity, and mental acuity.

Emotional disconnects
Emotional disconnects
Emotional disconnects happen when the sender or the receiver is emotional upset. A sender who is emotionally upset may be unable to present ideas or feelings effectively. Similarly, a receiver who is emotionally upset tends to ignore or distort what the sender is saying.

Semantics
Sematics
Same words can mean different things (or sometimes, nothing at all) to different people and this is called semantics. This usually happens with the usage of acronyms. For example, in my company, we have a project called DFS, which stands for Dragon Fly System. This same DFS acronym may have different meanings for different companies: for an IT company, DFS can stand for Distributed File System whereas for another company, it can stand for Department of Financial Services. Semantics can also happen in the usage of buzzwords, business jargons or technical jargons. For instance, the word “driver” can be understood as a person who drive a car but as a technical jargon, it also means “a computer program that operates or controls a particular type of device that is attached to a computer”.

5. References

Bauer, T. and Erdogan, Berrin., 2009. Organizational Behavior. 1st ed. Flat World Knowledge, Inc.